Monday, 26 March 2012

Happy 30th birthday - the BBC Micro

We live in an age when the creators of the new technologies, and the founders of the huge companies built on the back of their inventions, are recognized and idolised right around the world. Think of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Bill Gates of Microsoft.

But who knows the names of the talented engineers who invented such thing as stereo sound, colour tv, high definition tv, digital radio, and the iPlayer?  These engineering creations in turn spawned worldwide consumer demand.  The common link is that these modest inventors all worked at the BBC.  It’s a real shame that their names aren’t widely known and celebrated.    

This thought is prompted by a piece in the Observer this week by the always-interesting John Naughton.  He marks the 30th birthday of the BBC Micro:  The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution".

The BBC Micro is 30 this year. It got its name from a BBC project to enhance the nation's computer literacy. The broadcasters wanted a machine around which they could base a major factual series, The Computer Programme, showing how computers could be used, not just for programming but also for graphics, sound and vision, artificial intelligence and controlling peripheral devices. So a technical specification was drawn up by the BBC's engineers and put to a number of smallish companies then operating in the embryonic market for "micro" computers.

Continue reading here
Note John Naughton’s penultimate pargraph:
This penny has taken a long time to drop in this country, but mercifully things are beginning to change. Policy-makers are waking up to the realisation that an understanding of computing is not a luxury but a critical national resource. In a world increasingly run by networked computing, societies that don't have those skills are doomed to becoming passive consumers of devices and services that are created by industrial elites located elsewhere. That's why the story of the BBC Micro is relevant to all our futures: we have to re-engineer the revolution that it triggered.

 And read about that 1982 BBC Computer Programme here

The BBC Micro

 photo: BBC 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The first day of spring

Today is the first day of spring and that’s my cue to visit my local garden centre, 
North One.  I have no idea how much money I’ve spent here over the years.  My small terrace has seen many plants come over the years – and a few go. I’m quite competent with shrubs and plants, but unsuccessful with vegetables.  This year I’ll be sticking to salad leaves and herbs only.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Crazy Terms and Conditions

Do you buy things online? Rail tickets or clothes, groceries or books?  If so, as you progress through the form, filling in your address and then credit card details, what do you do when you get to the box that must be ticked:  “Confirm you have read and agree with our terms and conditions”.  I’ll bet that very few of you actually read those terms and conditions. 

I recently applied online for a new credit card from my bank.  All progressed well and so I was asked to tick the “I have read and agreed the terms and conditions”.   Except that I hadn’t.  What I did was open the document, take a look, and do a word count. Incredible. Pages and pages and pages of legalese, which I certainly didn’t have the time to read.

I’ve been keeping my eye on this issue over the last few weeks. My recent booking of two train tickets on contained a terms and conditions document of 17,477 words.   The return ticket only cost £15.85.

I downloaded a piece of music from the iTunes Store. There were 17,509 words to read after this heavy-duty introduction:  The Legal Agreements Set Out Below Are Between You And Itunes And Govern Your Use Of The Itunes Store, Mac App Store, App Store And Ibookstore. To Agree To These Terms, Click "Agree." If You Do Not Agree To These Terms, Do Not Click "Agree,"
And that credit card application? It was with online bank  There were 45,230 words relating to the terms and conditions. That’s more than half an average novel. That is 45,230 words I am meant to read, online, before I submit my application to get a new credit card.  If I had walked into a high street branch of the bank, assuming one existed, to apply for a credit card I think I’d have found a form to complete, which might have run to, say, four sides of A4, with attached terms and conditions.  Why would that simple form suffice for an in-branch application, but not an online one?  Crazy.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Deaths in Helmand

The deaths yesterday of six British servicemen in Helmand remind us that we are still at war in Afghanistan.  The incident brings to over 400 the number of British deaths in that conflict, which is now in its 11th year. 

Only last night I read this post, The Luckiest Man in Helmand, an impressive piece from last year about one man who stood on an explosive device – and survived.  

Monday, 5 March 2012

London 2012 Olympic Marathon

In all the coverage of the London 2012 Olympics it is easy to miss some of the pieces about previous Games held in London, in 1908 and 1948.   Simon Burnton had this piece in the Guardian about the quirky start and the dramatic finish of the marathon at the 1908 Games. 

The site of the old Olympic stadium in White City is now the BBC’s Media Village.   An appropriate plaque marking this fact was created on the face of one of the new BBC buildings, unveiled by IOC President Jacques Rogge in May 2005. 

Impressive to see that Great Britain topped the medal table.

Nearby, a mark and inscription in the paving marks the finish line.