Smoking Lectures

October 17, 2012

I am down in Sunny Sussex. My seafront hotel satisfies all the Brighton cliches. Expecting to meet Dickie Attenborough in the pub with Julian Clary any moment, after an invigorating windy spray-sodden walk following my greasy spoon breakfast.

Anyhoo. I was here last night for Seb Oliver’s inaugural public lecture, and a jolly fine occasion it was too. It was called “Smoke signals from the distant universe” and featured Herschel heavily as well as some fun demos involving TV remote controls, infra-red cameras, and smoke bombs. Rumour has it that the VC was pleased, which is what really matters of course. Chatter afterwards over the canapes was that he was heard to note that Scientists did these things better than Humanities types. Some of my fellow chatterers nodded, reminiscing about English and History inaugurals where the New Prof offered a dry reading-out of a written script, like a spoken essay, before a bemused public.

As a student, I can remember crashing the lectures of some arty friends and being a bit shocked – same thing… stand at lectern, read out essay, no eye contact. Is it still like that ? Any Humanities-type readers out there or is this purely a nerd-filled zone ?

It was suggested that lively public lectures is a scientific tradition because we all had childhood radio/TV role models – Fred Hoyle, Carl Sagan, Brainy Cox etc. But hang on, what about Kenneth Clarke, Bettany Hughes, Neil Oliver etc ? So perhaps the two provocative questions would be :

  • Why is TV History so wonderful when Academic History is so awful ?
  • When Historians do public lectures, they treat it as a version of academia; whereas when we do public lectures, our instinct is to treat it like TV … why ?


Apple flavoured surprise

April 6, 2012

Been having a bit of a sort-out recently. Time and entropy produce mostly sludge, but occasionally from out of the mud one plucks a pearl. I recovered my 1987 Mac Plus from beneath several archaeological layers. Oh this was going to be fun ! I connected the massive 20MB hard drive to the beast, and switched it on. After a very short delay there was a sort of clack and then smoke. I switched it off again… Number three child, The Geek, was disappointed.

Several days later I decided to remove the case and take a look. You never know, maybe there would be a single obvious burned-out component and I would know what to replace. Well, twas not so simple, but removing the case revealed a wondrous suprise … the inside of the case is signed by the Macintosh team ! I took a rather crummy picture. Here is a small section :

Small section of the inside case of my MacPlus, with Mac Team signatures.

Its all explained at this Vintage Computing website, and in more detail at the Andy Hertzfeld section of the Mac folklore website. The Mac Design team had a party at which they all signed a large sheet of paper; Jobs then had the signatures engraved onto the Macintosh case mould. Over time as the design changed, some of the signatures got lost. I can’t find Jeff Raskin on mine, which is disappointing.

Lots of people know this already, but I didn’t, so it was a weird and pleasant surprise.

All I have to do now is find someone who can fix the bugger.