Wednesday 29 November 2017

Stafford first class

I only have a few days holiday left for this year but decided to use one of my remaining days on Monday. Originally it was so i could catch up with things like going to the supermarket which i may have missed due to going to London at the weekend. However i was back home by lunchtime on Sunday so was able to do all of that anyway in the afternoon.

Instead i went to Stafford in the morning to take some railway photos with my Nikon (which doesn't get much use these days, i tend to use the iPhone mostly). I travelled first class too for the first time! I didn't originally intend to but due to the wonderful way the privatised railways work first class on the 8:57 was cheaper than standard class on the 9:01!

It was an enjoyable experience, i especially liked the complimentally coffees. I took a few photos, a nice surprise was a steam locomotive being taken through the station. It was rather cold though. You can see my photos here.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

The oldest PC DOS

The OS/2 Museum has come into possession of a 160K disk containing what may be the oldest surviving piece of software for the IBM PC. This is PC-DOS 1.0 dating from June 1981, thus predating the official v1.0 release of the IBM PC operating system by a few months. PC-DOS (and MS-DOS - the two were identical for a long time, PC-DOS just being the IBM branded version) ruled the roost in the business computer world in the 1980s and later conquered the home market.

The first PC i had was an Amstrad PC1640 which came with MS-DOS 3.2. Later i bought a copy of MS-DOS 4.0 (which i thought personally was good though it had many critics at the time) and later PCs came with v5.0. DOS was quite a limited operating system and there was a huge industry of add-ons and enhancements, software like Xtree which was highly popular.

Eventually Windows took over and people stopped caring which DOS they were running, especially after Windows 95 replaced it. I can still remember some of the commands though like dir and type.

These days i run Mac OSX however i have DOSbox installed for running old games (something i seldom do to be honest, no time to play!) I can thus open it and type those commands again. And then return to my GUI.

Monday 27 November 2017

West London Rails

I had some hours to kill before my tour of the LTM Depot in Acton on Saturday so went on a bit of a tour of the railways of West London. I visited both Edgware Road stations (yes there are two with the same name on the Underground), Paddington (National Rail and tube), Ealing Broadway (ditto), East Acton, Notting Hill Gate, Earl's Court, Ravenscourt Park, Chiswick Park, Ealing Common and Acton Town!

No wonder i was so tired after the tour because of that adventure beforehand! You can see my photos here. I was pretty proud of the nighttime photo of the Piccadilly Line train, came out really well.

Sunday 26 November 2017

LTM Depot Acton

I'm a Friend of the London Transport Museum but haven't been able to go to the museum or the depot this year so far (though i have attended 3 Hidden London tours of course). Well it was high time i visited the depot at Acton again so i attended a guided tour of the depot which has the vast majority of the museum's holdings.

Lots of buses, trains and other preserved items were on display. The tour was very good as always (i have been on it before a couple of years ago) and i recommend it. It was great to finally see the preserved 1938 Tube Stock train which had been in overhaul on my previous visits. You can see the photos i took here.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Walking the waterways (16) : Wednesbury Old Canal

The Wednesbury Old Canal is part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations and links the Walsall and Birmingham Main Line Canals. The canal was opened as part of the original Birmingham Canal in 1769. Later canal building replaced part of its stretch especially where it met the later Birmingham New Main Line.

Like most canals the Wednesbury Old Canal went into decline in the 20th century and was considered abandoned in the 1950s. The Ridgacre Branch and the canal from Swan Bridge Junction to the original termination point at Balls Hill Basin are no longer accessible to boats have due to a new road bridge which left insufficient headroom for boats. However the canal is still navigable for over a mile between Pudding Green and Ryder's Green Junctions (and a little beyond the latter).

Monday 20 November 2017

40 years of the Xerox Alto

Just over 40 years ago the Xerox Alto computer was publically unveiled. Why is this important? Well this computer system basically revealed the future (and thus our present). A Windowing interface? Bit mapped display? Copy and paste? All these things and more, part of everyday computing now but in 1977 it was alchemy.

This article covers the 40th birthday celebrations of the Alto including live demos of restored Alto hardware. The Alto actually came out in 1973 though it took Xerox a few years to decide to try and commercialise the world beating technology being developed at PARC. However as everyone knows it fell to outsiders (especially Apple and Microsoft) to truly recognise the potential of what was being developed there (though not slavishly copy as some alledge) and not the Xerox executives and the rest is history.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Wood End

Today i headed up to Wood End in Warwickshire, first of all i need to narrow it down as there are no shortage of "Wood End"s in the country, there are 4 in Warwickshire alone! The one i went to is near Stratford-upon-Avon and is the one with a railway station, also called Wood End! The station is a request stop and is the fourth and final request stop on the Shakspeare Line for me to visit.

There isn't a huge amount around the station, apart from some rather large houses. It obviously is where the money is. Unfortunately it was a rather damp morning but i still got some decent photos. You can see them here.

Monday 13 November 2017

Sankey Canal in St Helens

The Sankey Canal was opened in the mid-1700s to transport coal from the Lancashire coal mines connecting St Helens to the river Mersey. Like all canals the Sankey went into decline in the 20th century and was abandoned in 1963. Since then there have been efforts to restore it though as yet very little of the canal is navigable. In St Helens the remains of the canal are watered in a number of places though cut off from the rest of the canal. You can see my photos taken along part of the Sankey Canal here (and some in the town itself).

Tektronix 4404 Smalltalk Demo

A fascinating demo of Smalltalk running on the Tektronix 4404. Smalltalk was developed in the early 1970s at Xerox PARC and was hugely influential in the development of graphical user interfaces. There are indeed elements of the interface shown in the video in Mac OSX nowadays (the browser for example). However the freedom and flexibility of the interface seems far beyond what we are allowed to do these days.

Sunday 12 November 2017

North West Rails

To get to St Helens yesterday meant some interesting rail travel of course. There is no direct service from Birmingham so i had to change trains at Wigan North Western (well no hardship to me of course). Both stations are interesting but St Helens Central in particular has a great station building. I am not usually a fan of modern station buildings but this one is pretty cool.

As i had a spare hour i also headed over to Huyton. All useful for future entries in my Calling At... stations blog of course! You can see my railway photos here.
St Helens Central

Northern at Huyton

Promoting St Helens
Buffer stops at Wigan North Western

Saturday 11 November 2017

North West Museum of Road Transport

Today i headed up to the North West, to St Helens to be exact, to visit the North West Museum of Road Transport. Now this really is my kind of place, basically a big shed crammed full of old buses, other heritage vehicles and other ephemera. Highly recommended. It reminded me of the Aston Manor museum thats now sadly gone (though relocated to another town, i must visit that one day).

You can see my photos here. A number of buses were Leyland Nationals including those of Chase Buses which i used to see around Birmingham a few years ago.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Walking the waterways (15) : Nottingham Canal

The Nottingham Canal was a 23.7km long canal from Langley Mill in Derbyshire to Nottingham. The canal was constructed between 1792 and 1796 connecting to the river Trent at Nottingham and the Erewash and Cromford Canals at Langley Mill. The canal was a success and even as late as 1916 was carrying over 125,000 tons of cargo - though by then it was mostly short distance traffic in Nottingham between the Trent and the wharves in the city.

The canal fell into decline in the 1920s and 1930s and by WW2 was only navigable from Lenton to Nottingham. Now part of the canal network for leisure traffic this stretch from Lenton to Nottingham remains in use though the rest of the canal up to Langley Mill has become unnavigable, some of the canal remains waters though unusable by boats but some of the canal bed lost to open cast mining. A short stub of the canal still exists at Langley Mill where it is used as a canal basin.
Nottingham Canal in Nottingham

Bridge crossing the canal just outside Nottingham city centre

A Nottingham tram crosses the canal 
The basin at Langley Mill

Monday 6 November 2017

The Powerpoint story

Presentation software overlord Powerpoint has a bad name in some quarters (not entirely undeserved), luckily i do not have to use it much in my everyday work though i did use it to create a presentation to accompany my nerve wracking micro-teach when i was training to become a teacher a few years ago (luckily skills and qualifications i have not had to make use of since)...

The genesis of Powerpoint is interesting however as this article details. Powerpoint was developed by a company set up by ex-Apple II and III engineers and came about almost by accident. The company, Forethought, had been trying to create an object orientated GUI for IBM PCs but were running out of cash and time and so needed to change their business plan and bring in some revenue. First they published FileMaker (still a popular Mac app) and later wrote Powerpoint, originally for the Mac only.

Powerpoint was an immediate success when it was released in April 1987. So much so that Microsoft bought the company just 3 months later! It took a few years for Powerpoint to see off its rivals in this area like Harvard Graphics but now it is the undisputed king of presentation software with an estimated 95% of the market!

Columbus' PowerPoint Presentation from David C. Brock on Vimeo.

Saturday 4 November 2017


Danzey is a stop on the North Warwickshire line to Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a station i have travelled through many times but never stopped at, until today anyway. To be honest there isn't a whole lot at Danzey, the nearest village Tanworth-in-Arden is a mile away. All that is around the station are a few houses and farms, dairy farms too from the sound of all the cows!

However thats part of the appeal and i loved Danzey. I enjoyed the apparent remoteness of the spot (in reality not that far from the city) and the rural nature of Danzey. You can see my photos here.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Word processing

This is an interesting article on the history of word processing and some of the problems with the software so many of us use these days. I use Microsoft Word at work and think its a poor program to be honest, randomly changing your formatting between saves is not a good feature!

I've used many word processors over the years dating back to the days of the Amstrad PC (we may have used a word processor on the BBC Micro but i can't remember much about it), i've yet to find a perfect one yet though i did like Word Perfect 5.1 and Protext for DOS.

Of course i couldn't do without them. I wrote my masters dissertation in Apple Pages which is a reasonable piece of software but like all word processors these days (especially Word) there is too much stuff and too many options getting in the way of the actual writing. Maybe we need to return to something simpler like a typewriter such as like my lovely old Brother typewriter. Or maybe not...