I did a little audit this morning. My wife and I have approximately 6 desktop machines in various states of repair (got to get onto those), three laptops, two Kindles, two smartphones (which are computers essentially), a ZX Spectrum in Gateshead, a camera with GPS (very handy – where did I take that picture? – well it tells me to arc-seconds – Jebus wept). Just the laptops would make Alan Turing weep tears of blood. I suspect I am not unusual here. I have a plan. I can get Lenovo to supply me (and I have sold my soul to ‘em – I’m typing on a Thinkpad by them) which is to get a trio of Lenovo Intel Core 2 Duos for GBP89.99 a throw and do some Folding at Home. Or maybe something else. There was (is?) an outfit sponsored by Oxford Uni (the other place) and IBM for something similar but I is buggered if I can recall the name. Having said that if I can cure cancer in my shed (for that is where they shall reside) then I shall be proud. If you can recall the name please let me know for the screensaver is much cooler. And I used to have it installed before Thalia went TU (that’s a tech term BTW). I did work my way through the Muses (and me with a comprehensive edumaction!). Some I sold or gave away. Some did go twat-wise (another techie term). I love the things. They make me, me.
No! They made me glorious. I got a Speccy thirty-ish years back. That was wonderful. Computers had been things that Bond Girls tended and I was playing Manic Miner. Wow! I learned BASIC and Pascal and Fortran on the little beast hooked-up to a 14″ Ferguson B&W TV and a tape-recorder from Dixons. It was well cool. When I went to University in 1992 I had to learn to program to drive a robot around. I excelled. I knew what I was doing. I had written the thankfully forgotten game “Orc fighter” so I knew my stuff. My classmates were astonished but I had that key advantage. I had a Lego robot whizzing around. That was cool and people say physics is dull? Not for me. That was much more fun than Swift’s juvenalia or Thackeray’s senilia. It was like stuff, cool stuff. OK, some of the labs were dull. I could live another thousand years without attempting the Guoy method for measuring magnetic susceptibility again. That was bloody dreadful. It really was but there are always bones in the sweetest fish. And building a pico-Tesla magnetometer and knowing exactly who of the lecturers was turning up tardy to the car park was more than a compensation. That cost roughly 5 quid (not of my money). But if Dr Kent was late, I knew. Bloody Hellskis that was sensitive. My lab partner once approached it with a screwdriver and it went FSD. Cheers Rachel. Not only did she dump me for a twat from Macclesfield (of all places!) but she all but knackered my magnetometer.
Nice machines at the Uni of Nottingham – 386DX40s (this was ’92 to ’95) with more interfaces than you could shake a stick at. We also had BBC-Bs for data logging.
I grew up with computers. They are me. People ask me “Why?” and I can’t answer because I just know the answer. They are me. I am nearly 42 (the answer) but I have been surrounded by computers since I was a kid. Since I first played with a Commodore PET and fell in love. I drew a picture of a Chieftain tank in ASCII. I was that sad and have only become sadder.
Weird isn’t it? I am looking down at my Kindle Fire HDX which is a computer only not in name. It cost less (no adjustment for inflation) than my ZX Spectrum did in the ’80s. Wow. I mean Wowsers! That was thirty years ago. I had just spent an hour (just an hour – this isn’t chemistry which is glorified faffing if you ask me) fixing it up despite the ‘structions in very obscure English. Oh, China! “Please to be appointing the USB port”. AKA “plug it in”. I know computers and I am wired on them. From Augsta Ada and Babbage’s cogs to Win 10 count me in. That is why I give ‘em names. My first PC was Urania. I am typing on Athina. (and yes the translit is more accurate than Athena – I know my Greek – physics.). The Kindle is Loki BTW. I’m gonna rebuild Urania as Urania III. I have a weakness for classical female names. Who doesn’t? These things are to us what steam engines were to George Stephenson (who lived walking distance from where I grew-up. They are to me what jet engines were to Clarence L “Kelly” Johnson. Except he was a genius. Bugger.
Hell, but I can program a RS-232 interface in machine code (I could anyway, once). And I could make that little Lego thing do St Vitus’s dance. I just love these things.
I adore them. They are not means of communication. That is a horrid myth. I didn’t do an A-Level in maths but I had an Amiga and I programmed fractals on it out of Sci Am. I taught myself maths. One BSc in Physics and a (fully funded) MSc in Astrophysics later and I think I proved myself. Now I mooch in Ruby and stuff. But seriously mooch. I get to be a proper programmer then bread and cheese will end-up on the table.
10 PRINT “Nick is Great”
20 GOTO 10
I have moved on a bit since then. And I am not blowing my own horn (it would put my back out) but celebrating the sheer fact that I was fortunate to be born in an age and a place where these things I quite simply cannot imagine my life without existed. I couldn’t have invented them but can I use them – yes! Aeroplanes and computers. How the devil did humanity manage for fifty thousand years without them.
I also want to build a Tesla coil. Just for the hell of it. And if it kills squirrels then like whatever. The cat is way too smart to get in the way.
I’ll keep the computers away. This will be purely analogue. Of course many will object to me “wasting ‘tricity” but fuck ‘em. My follow-up will be an Alcubierre Drive. Now that is a bit of a tough call. I mean I’d have to create negative mass for a kick-off. But Barnard’s Star in hours… Kicks HS2 into a most cocked hat. It is a fucking railway. 200 years after Brunel and the politcos haven’t got over it (one was run-over at Rainhill). And don’t talk to me about Skylon A1 or C2. Just don’t. They want to spent ten times the amount on a Stephenson gauge railroad but can’t fund a variable cycle aerospace plane. That fucker could get from Bristol Internal Spaceport (how cool is that?) to Sydney in four hours. And that is on an arctic great circle so as to not piss the Russians off but at that height and speed it ain’t MH17 is it? So fuck ‘em.
I’m a techno-fetishist. I make no apologies. Fuck railways (other than to tie Corbyn to the tracks and ride a shitty commuter train over his beardy commie corpse, back and forth) and build Skylon. But do any of our PPE elites have the imagination? No. Oh, fuck no! Wall, stand against and I’ll get the rifle.