A few quick ones.

July 14, 2015

I’ve often started writing an entry, but never completed it, or it was too short. But then I came across a blog where the author had the same issue, but he just tagged two or three random ones together to make an entry. So why not? And the blog title – taken from a Wodehouse book of short stories.

Holiday Jam. (A timely entry)

This was a specific brew, made from fruits from the garden of my childhood (and present) home, before we went on holiday to SE Devon. Principally it was made of Loganberries, but would include, from over the years, Rhubarb, Gooseberries, Redcurrants, Strawberries, possibly an Apple (Discovery) and maybe others. Sour cherries (Morello) probably were not included, as I think it would have been too early for them. But the vital point was that it was made in mid July, too early for most fruit, and I stress, just from the garden – well, not the sugar.

Usually we managed to make 3 or 4 pots of the jam, a couple of days before we set off.

In the early years, brother and I would be in blankets at 05:00 in the back seats of Mini (the original 1959 type), our “toys” in the side pockets and meals in bags/boxes between us, everything from 06:30 coffee in flasks to mid afternoon tea. Without motorways, that is how long it took, especially trying to avoid traffic black-spots.

The Holiday Jam would be first opened on the Sunday morning, the first morning in whatever caravan we were in, served with toast. From Monday onwards, there was the possibility of cooked Mackeral with toast, caught from a village improbably called Beer, where traders hired out inboard motor boats for tourists to go line fishing.

It was my experience of making this jam that meant that when I had a chance to make some raspberry jam a few years ago (as recorded in this blog), I was able to do it successfully without the paraphernalia apparently needed for modern jam making.

Yet another musical physicist
These days, I’m essentially an engineer in my day-to-day life, but I have a background and some training – sadly ill-used – in music. It has lead to some odd situations, as if odd situations don’t hunt me down.

This time I was invited back to a friend’s place in the Uni Hall of Residence after an evening at the bar. I don’t recall quite how we got to this situation, but the coffee and brandy were flowing, and he must have known my background to some extent. So he put on a record, and challenged me to name the composer. It wasn’t easy, I didn’t know the work, but eventually I decided it was essentially Handel, but with a more recent spin, to use the current terminology. Arranged Elgar, I suggested?

As it turned out, I was absolutely correct. “I’m impressed” my friend said, clearly was. He didn’t realise that the science departments were able to raise string quartets, bands, and in one case a science facilty small orchestra. Though things are bad if I end up in the first Violins.

There have been few musicians interested in science, but on one occasion I took a couple through a tour of my department, which impressed them. Especially the X-ray diffraction, which I had painfully learnt how to orientate metal crystals by reading the X-ray photos – so was able to bore on with impressive bluffing.

Imperial 66
I have it on good authority that people now blog from their mobile phones. I struggle to imagine how they manage on such a tiny keyboard. I grew up on real type-writers, such as the Imperial 66. Indeed, while at Uni, there were plus points for type-written reports as opposed to hand-written.

I well remember the night I put aside to type my first (typed) report. The Imperial 66 I purchased for £45 (how expensive!), was set up, me thinking it would take me literally all-night. Despite the mistakes, with tipp-ex paper to hide some of them, it was 03:00 by the time I finished, and gladly sank into bed.

I still have it, and although the usage has decreased, it is still in weekly use. Perhaps 15 years ago one woman, seeing my typed airwaybill said “that’s an old-fashioned type-face”. I was surprised as she was quite young. Only last month did typing waybills finally fall off its rota, serial numbers on thin metalised labels are the last remaining redoubt.

This is a wooden carriage of the Metropolitan Railway – on a loader

In August 2008 I made this blog posting about a train on a low loader spotted on the M25. I had spotted another train since, but the photos were too poor to use. Yesterday I was on a rather twisting slip road to join the M25, when a lorry took my notice – or rather its load. I soon realised it was an old-fashioned (that is to say over 100 years old) railway carriage. I was able to get the above shot, but any attempt to get one closer was too hazardous to try, what with the speed, the traffic around me and the complex shape of the slip road. Note the opposing traffic is on the left at this point. All the exterior of the carriage was wooden, and well varnished.

I was able to see that the carriage was marked “Metropolitan Railway”, clearly denoting it as one of the fleet of carriages used on what is now (mostly) the Metropolitan line of the London Underground. This carriage would have dated back to the time when the Metropolitan Railway was an independant company, which had ambitions to have a very fast train line from points North, via a gap in the Chilterns, through London and to a Channel Tunnel. Much of the ambition became the Great Central Railway, with the last-built London terminus at Marylebone.

It’s no wonder the HS2 consortium want to use the same idea. Shame they’re one hundred years too late. The Great Central is defunct, the remains are commuter lines into London from the Chilterns, although Deutsche Bahn owned Chiltern Railways have pushed faster trains to Birmingham. £50bn to save 20 minutes or so London – Birmingham? If they really want to increase capacity, why not restore four-track running through the stations on the Chiltern line? I thought they were when the line was closed for a whole week or so a couple of years ago, but no, just some kind of minor realignment.

The BBC Radio 4 programme The Museum of Curiousity was on again this evening, hosted by John Lloyd, the “Professor of Ignorance at the University of Buckingham“. A real [private] University, not sure if he really holds the post [well, obviously not in one sense, but this is the fifth series, one would have thought if the Uni of Buckingham – not to be confused with Bucks New Uni, whose real (that is, accurate) name of ‘University of High Wycombe’ was rejected by the Privy Council, those snobbish drunks (I would have used another, more derogatory, term but dictionaries disagree to the precise definition, some pushing it over the limit of acceptable these days)] would have objected by now if they didn’t like it. So why did a drunken orgy at the Privy council allow a name so close to that of an existing University, within the same county (look at the name of the county, guys…)

You see why my editors sometimes are found sobbing, heads in their hands, after the penultimate sentence above would have crossed their view. It works. Just. If you think carefully. Note the nested brackets. And yes, my work emails sometimes have two or maybe in one case three brackets in a row to close all the nestings.

Anyway, there are three panelists who are guest donator, who ‘donate’ an item to the museum, and explain why. This evening’s edition included a bubble and ancient writing. There was a moment of interaction between the two proposers here (both are serious academics – about the earliest reference to bubbles in said writing), where the “curator” (the resident comedian) suggested how he hated the way the programme was “dumbing down”. (Obviously it wasn’t) They say next week one of the panelists is Buzz Aldrin – the second man on the Moon.

But a side comment caught my attention, not that I did not believe it, but that it appeared to be perfectly possible. That in the history of photography, more photos have been taken in the last year than in the rest of the history of photography combined.

And what are all these photos of? A large percentage will be of drunk young people at parties of one sort or another. Another percentage will be taken by people like me, now able to photograph at zero cost what used to be expensive, so do so – be it cars, records for work, or whatever. Anther large percentage will be “porn”, either professional or amateur, as can be seen all over the internet these days (I’ve no need to include such a photo of that here).

Oh well, I’m so off topic, I may as well go on about this programme. Clive James donated the North American Aviation’s “Mustang”, built at the behest of the British during World War II, but only came into its own when fitted with the Packard built licensed Rolls Royce Merlin Engine. James argued the Mustang was a war-winner, as it could fly from Britain to Berlin and back, and when Göring saw it in the skies above, he knew the war was over. I’d argue the Merlin engine, that powering the Hurricane, Spitfire, Lancaster bomber [*] and Mustang was the real war winner. That episode of the programme was more remarkable because the researchers made a mistake, and got all the details of a different North American aircraft; but James (off the cuff) had all those details to hand as well, and went on, at length, about that aircraft. It was a bravura performance, one I managed to record.

* Note added later. How could I forget the de Havilland Mosquito, the wooden bomber that could out-fly the fighters, that of Göring’s famous complaint, built in parts in my home town, whose test-pilot was born not 2 miles from where I write this now, and powered by two Merlin engines. As a kid I was once shown a tip of a propeller blade, by some old man, forget why, but he said it was for a Spitfire. I reckon it was really a Mosquito propellor tip, the Spitfire being mentioned as I’d probably heard of it at my then age. But they were making the parts for Mosquitos. The vast majority of Mosquitos had parts from my home town.

A few days ago I needed a program. It was included in a compilation book ‘Numerical Recipes’, and the disk the program was on is ‘Numerical Recipes in C’. (C as in the programming language – other languages were available). I had purchased the disk, needed for the company I was working for at the time, over 20 years ago. Anyway, the disk I used from time to time was unreadable. I soon confirmed it was not the computer’s fault.

This was not the original disk, which was a 5.25″ 360k floppy disk – when floppy disks were Real Floppy Disks, and 5.25″ a minaturisation of the 8″ (and no doubt larger before that) but a copy made on a 3.5″ 1.44MB floppy disk – those in the hard plastic covers.

I am pretty damning about those hard cased 3.5″ floppy disks, especially the later ones. I refer to them as ‘write-only’ media. As that joke so often needs explaining, even to computer experts, I sometimes wonder why I bother…and in case… ‘Read only’ means that, the data can be read, but not edited or altered, whereas Read-Write means both reading and editing/altering. Write only is, of course, useless, the point of my joke, but all too often in the past I’d save data to floppy disk, then when I come to need it again (to ‘Read’ it) I find the disk corrupted or otherwise unreadable.

33MHz, oh, 120MB Hard Disk, I forget, state of the art PC {computer} circa 1992, with a 1980s monitor.

So I dug out this really old computer, as it had a working 5.25″ drive. As I got it going after years of somblescence, I thought, ‘Gosh, I remember when this was the new, latest thing, that you didn’t have time to make a cup of tea while it compiled the firmware’; it was that fast…and how slow it felt now. Mind you, the computer I am writing this entry on is 15 years old, and on its third reincarnation. Still the original Hard Disk as well, although there is a second one with rather more storage space.

After various interface sorting out, the display shown here proved to be dead so another one was lashed into service (the one shown has five BNC connectors as the video input, that was outdated when we got it, over 20 years ago), got it all running. Most importantly, I found the original ‘Numerical Recipes in C’ 5.25″ disk – kept in the inside jacket cover of the book. And it was readable (defying my predictions – but then it is a Real Floppy Disk). And it’s now copied and a copy on this hard disk as well. But I have the original, given how precious the authors of ‘Numerical Rec….’ are about copying even ye-olde versions.

The Book, the Disk, and the copy on Write-only media.

However, this is a near-miss example of what is happening every day. Information is being lost. In the good-old days, there would be paper brochures, manuals or whatever, so usually a copy would be at the originator, and if not, one lying around somewhere. All the time (if you are looking for such things), you hear of paper documents turning up – just consider the Radio 4 programme ‘Document’. But these days, information is all electronic, much easier to generate, and just as easily lost. I can think of many internet sites that have disappeared, and as likely as not, there is no copy left. The project to archive the internet seems to have ground to a halt – I’m not surprised, but there are times I really could do with an old copy of a website.

I could no doubt go on for a long time giving examples, and, of course, I cannot provide links because it is exactly my point – these random examples were on the internet, but no more:

The US Antarctic Survey used ‘A frame’ huts for many years. At the end of their life, they were put onto an iceberg to fall into the sea; but the New Zealand Antarctic Survey rescued one and used it for many years as a recreation hut. It eventually burnt down. Pictures that I didn’t copy showed the interior, and it looked really a rather nice place. So much so, given the fact I need another shed on limited space and one that I don’t hit my head on the door as I go in, I’m thinking of designing and making one in homage!

Only 'A frame' hut image I have left... saved from some website years ago...

I have a small length of solder, which is very special (even by this hoarder of solder’s standards); the emf [thermally generated voltage] of the solder is matched to copper, so that there are no thermal emfs generated at solder joints. Essential, or at least used to be, in some applications. Is there any reference to this solder on the internet? Rhetorical question. Certainly not on the website of Multicore Solders, the manufacturer, whose website I refer to as ‘fact-free’.(c.f. the phrase ‘Fat-free’ for diet foods)

To be continued.

Modern technology failing

February 5, 2012

I know I’m not a regular blogger, but was hampered by one of the two events of the week that has caused me a lot of trouble. My computer kept crashing.

This is my ‘new’ computer, which has been in use for less than a year, although I have had it for somewhat longer. This was because due to the computer’s own firmware, I was unable to install linux on it for some time (until a later version of linux had code to overcome the issue).

The ‘new’ computer had started to crash with frequency but irregularity, for no obvious reason, other than possibly the use of a lot of memory at that moment. But nothing obvious I could use as a clue.

The result of this – the forth commissioning of the ‘old’ computer. The first recommissioning (the second commissioning) was done to this, already old and second-hand computer in 2002, when it became the ‘remote’ company computer at parents house when I was looking after my late Father while my Mother was in hospital. My Father had early-stage Alzheimer’s at the time, which is why someone had to be with him all the time, and it fell to me as the unmarried child.

The next commissioning was when the main SCSI computer’s main hard disk died, in about 2008. By that time, SCSI technology and been and gone, so there was nothing available to replace the dud disk, so the by this time already aged computer had another commissioning. It was supposely retired for the third time in March last year.

But it’s been brought back into service due to the failure of the ‘new’ computer (also referred to as the atomic doorstop, which is effectively what it has been for much of its life), and while no data has been lost, the age of this venerable computer means that installing all the relivent back-ups has taken a lot of time (and is still continuing – not ‘on-going’).

The next thing to go was my ‘new’ mobile phone – 15 months old. It has a touch screen, which I found useful for one purpose only – the qwerty keyboard it could produce for writing text messages. Without the working touch-screen, as I found out, the only thing that one could do with the phone was receive a call – and not even pick up voicemail.

So, can you guess, I recommissioned my ‘old’ – previous – mobile phone. This one had died once, prompting the emergency purchase of the ‘new’ one, but with a subsequent firmware upgrade via the internet, it sprang back into life, and was kept mainly as a camera, as its camera had flash. I have discovered that flash is rather a rarity on mobile phones, yet the things I want the camera on the phone for all so often require flash.

I even have an older mobile phone than that – the one I refer to must be at least ten years old now, which I keep in the car. Its great virtue is that it can be operated from standard ‘AA’ batteries, so I keep those in the car as
well. It’s just a pain that a brilliant (in more than on sense of the word) LED torch, that is worn on the forehead, and has already been used for one car repair in the dark – what a godsend it proved – uses ‘AAA’ batteries!

I’ve tagged this entry with ‘dumbing-down’ really on the basis of things not being made now as good as they used to be. This, more generally, has been a major bug-bear of late, but will be the topic of another entry – as will the consequences of this year’s snowbound South of England, which will also be tagged similarly!

The news of the Eastman Kodak ‘filing for bankrupcy’ to use the American phrase, is being played out as the death of film photography – at least for the everyday user. I’ve not put a link in here on that at present, as most of them listed on Google seem ephemeral. It is certain that most people now have digital cameras. Even I haven’t taken a film photo for at least three years, and I’ve taken far more photos since I had a camera in a mobile phone than I did before. (Sadly, that camera seems to be beginning to fail).

Before all of this, I had decided to digitise my entire photo collection. I purchased a device that takes the negatives, converts them and stores the image on a memory stick with 9MB resolution – the highest I could find (as of the time of writing). I grabbed a set of old negatives, which were of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) engine Mallard when it ran through my home town in the mid 1980s. Of course I have family ties with the LNER, so it was a special occasion for me. It stopped at the station, I had obtained a platform ticket (remember those?), and took some photos.

Anyway, I lined up the first strip of negatives, pushed it into this image device and had a shock. The small screen showed a familiar shot – that of the plate on the side of the engine about it’s record breaking run, as shown here:

However, in viewfinder, something I’d never seen on the print; reflected in the engine’s paintwork was the face of my late father. I’m unable at present to enhance the picture sufficiently, the best I can on this computer is the following image, which at least looks like a head and open-necked shirt.

Of course, looking back at the first image shown here, there is a shadow that, knowing what I know now, I recognise, but until that moment, I had not a clue. Believe me, in the viewfinder, the reflected image is unambiguous!

So far as I know, the boiler certificate for Mallard has expired, and she currently resides in the National Railway museum at York as a static exhibit. For those who want to see the detail, I’ve separated out that plate:

This engine, with an official speed measuring truck in tow, managed to reach 126mph for just long enough to count as the world record holder. A record that still stands to this day.

This is item one of this topic. One should not be surprised that I take some time to compose some blog entries, for they require a fair bit of research, for all their lack of references. One of the entries that I will make on this topic is already in a fair state of preparation, but I have to scan in images, work on them (sic) to highlight the issues I want to discuss. Another topic will be the lifetime of digital imagery, as opposed to those of negatives.

The Waitrose chain of supermarkets has, for almost the past two years, put out a weekly newspaper called Waitrose Weekend. Recipes from Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal were very much in evidence to start with, less so now, and other people that you have heard of (not necessarily for food) also write columns. Some pages are pointless for me, for example TV listings, and their giving an review of the omnibus of ‘The Archers’ – almost a week late – was thankfully soon dropped.

Anyway, the paper is free, so I get a copy, as occasionally there is something worthwhile in it. What I did not expect was the following picture. This picture has been scanned from the paper, at high resolution, then shrunk in an attempt to make it at least – I was about to write ‘readable’, you know what I mean, ‘visible’ does not exactly have the same meaning. So apologies for the relatively poor picture.

Illustration from Waitrose Weekend, 5th Jan 2012

What was it that caught my eye? Not the Hellibore, but a series 1 Rotring Tikky pencil (the top impliment on top of the garden plan). Even without the comparison of later models, in this picture the pencil just looks sleek, a precision tool, a detail lost in the later incarnations of this pencil. It has just occurred to me that the metal collar above the taper to the point holder may in part help give this impression, although they are all the one piece of metal. One can also argue that the angle of the taper itself helps give the precision tool impression as well.

Now this must be a stock photo from somewhere, although I could not see any credit for it, partly as it is hard to see how Waitrose would have the staff and the time to put together such photographs, and secondly, where they would get hold of what is now a relatively old, and almost unobtainable pencil, especially when more modern Rotrings (and all other makes) are readily available for a pound or two.