Monday 30 April 2018

SNOBOL (StriNg Oriented and symBOlic Language)

At first glance SNOBOL does seem like a typo of a more familiar sounding programming languages like COBOL but in fact SNOBOL is a series of languages developed at Bell Laboratories by David J. Farber, Ralph E. Griswold and Ivan P. Polonsky in the early 1960s. SNOBOL was designed for text processing and pattern matching and was quite different to most other programming languages of the time.

SNOBOL was originally developed for the symbolic manipulation of polynomials on the IBM 7090 mainframe in 1962. The language became popular and was refined and expanded culminating in SNOBOL4 in 1967.

SNOBOL4 was based on a virtual machine which meant it was much more portable. The language was popular in teaching, artificial intelligence and text manipulation in the 1970s and 1980s though it has been eclipsed by newer tools and languages in the last few decades.

More recently derived languages like SL5 and Icon have added structured language concepts to SNOBOL (which has none itself).

So how do you do a "Hello World" program in SNOBOL?

OUTPUT = "Hello world" 

Saturday 28 April 2018


I made a brief stopover in Stoke last year while changing trains but today returned to visit the town proper, mostly to walk the Trent & Mersey Canal. To be honest it wasn't quite as scenic as the canal at Willington last week (though the dull dreary weather didn't help!) I did make it as far as the junction with the Caldon Canal, its always good to walk a canal for the first time.

You can see my Trent & Mersey photos, the Caldon Canal photos and some photos at the railway station.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

The British Bus (3) : Heyday of the half-cab

As we saw in part 2 of this history of the British bus the changeover from horse to the internal combustion engine was rapid. In the 1930s the bus industry consolidated with many smaller companies swallowed up by a handful of major operators, in London and other cities municipal fleets held sway.

Following the Second World War nationalisation of transport services, which had started in the 1930s with the virtual nationalisation of London transport, was pursued in earnest to try and arrest a gradual decline in public transport in the face of growing car ownership [1]. Large bus companies like Tilling and Scottish Motor Transport were taken over by the British Transport Commission. By the late 1960s nearly all of the bus industry was publicly owned though not without opposition, Midland Red for example tried to fight nationalisation but was overruled by it's parent company [2]. This could not stop the decline in ridership however, in London for example bus passengers fell nearly fifty percent between 1951 and 1967 (mostly switching to the tube not cars).

The post-war period was the heyday of the "halfcab" bus, these had the engine at the front with the driver's cab only extended half-way across the bonnet thus facilitating easier access to the engine. The passenger entrance was usually at the rear with a conductor needed to take fares - though some half-cabs did have doors at the front. The classic halfcab buses included the Leyland Titan, Guy Arab and AEC Regent III, the latter forming the basis of the London RT just one of a series of classic London half-cab buses which were built in the thousands (seven thousand RTs alone [3]). It was in London where the half-cab remained supreme far longer than elsewhere in the country which switched to rear engined buses in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed the ultimate example of the London half-cab bus, the Routemaster, remained in service in the capital into the early 2000s.

However elsewhere in the country the half-cab bus was being withdrawn in the late 1960s and 1970s, also time for an attempt at greater integration between the various forms of public transport. It was the time of the Passenger Transport Executive.
Former Birmingham City Transport buses, a Guy Arab on the far right

St Helens Corporation Leyland Titan PD2/47

Leyland PDR 1

RML Routemaster

Leyland Tiger FEC and Routemaster RCL

[1] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 118
[2] Malcolm Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1925-1967 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 11
[3] Kevin McCormack, Twenty-five Years of London Transport 1949-1974 (Ian Allan, 2014) p. 49

Monday 23 April 2018

The gyroscopic car

This is an interesting oddity I discovered today while searching for something else in the Electric Railway Journal. In 1910, in Brooklyn USA, a monorail railway car was tested that used gyroscopes to keep it from falling over [1]. The Scherl monorail car (built in Germany) was tested at the Clearmont Ice Rink and could carry up to six passengers. The car was powered by a pair of two hp electric motors supplied by 110v DC from copper conductors either side of the running rail. The current being collected by shoes mounted on the bogies - the wheels having double flanges.

The car was kept upright by a pair of gyroscopes, these consisted of a steel wheel rotating in a near vacuum. Emergency props could be deployed by the motorman if the gyroscopes failed!

The car ran on an oval test track at up to 4mp/h and apparently worked perfectly fine with passengers not dumped unceremoniously on the floor!

More about Scherl's gyro monorail cars can be seen here.

Bogie detail, notice the collector shoe and double flanged wheels

[1] "Gyroscopic car in Brooklyn", Electric Railway Journal Vol. XXXV No. 3 (January 1910) p. 116

Saturday 21 April 2018


On my Mac I have a post-it note (the software app included with MacOS not paper) which lists places I plan to visit. Now I am much better at adding places to the list than ticking them off but today I achieved the latter. I went to Willington in South Derbyshire which is usually a place I travel through when I'm on my way to Derby but i have wanted to visit to walk the canal there.

That canal is the Trent & Mersey and I had a nice walk along the canal in good early sunshine. Willington is a nice village, the cooling towers of the former Willington power station still visible in the distance. However today was all about the canal, and you can see my photos here.

Thursday 19 April 2018

St Katharine Docks

The Thames in London used to have a number of docks, of which St Katharine Docks was just one of them. Located on the North bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge the docks was named after a hospital, St Katharine's by the Tower, which once stood on the site. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1820s with the hospital, thousands of homes (mostly rather poor slums) and other buildings demolished to build the docks area and large warehouses.

The docks opened in 1828 but were not a rousing success, they could not accommodate large ships which hindered their commercial viability though the docks remained busy. St Katharine Docks was one of the first of London's docks to be closed in 1968. The docks became a marina with most of the warehouses demolished (those which still stood - a number had been destroyed in the Second World War).

The area of St Katharine Docks has now turned full circle with housing once more filling the area - though nowadays the houses are expensive flats not slum houses of course.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

The British Bus (2) : Rise of the motorbus

As we saw in part 1 of this history of the British Bus the first buses in the early nineteenth century were horse drawn, being a development of the earlier stagecoach. From 1861 until 1896 government legislation virtually banned the use of self-powered road vehicles but the law was changed in 1896 and within months experimental motor bus services were operating. The first such bus in London ran between Kennington and Oxford Circus in 1899, in 1902 the London Road Car Company began to motorise it's fleet [3]. The changeover in London was dramatic, motorbuses went from just four in 1900 to two thousand, seven hundred and sixty one in 1915 when the final horse buses were withdrawn.

In 1910 London General introduced the B Class which was the first of a long line of standard London motor buses. London General was an early driver of the new transport technology, in 1925 they introduced a double decker with a covered top deck (though the first large scale introduction was in Birmingham, see below) and in 1927 a bus with pneumatic tyres - something the authorities were reluctant to allow for some time due to fears of tyres exploding and harming pedestrians.

As with the horse buses in the mid-nineteenth century, the motorbus market was highly competitive and cut throat in the 1920s. Many bus companies were started up by returning servicemen though as the decade wore on these smaller companies began to be swallowed up by a small number of larger firms such as Tilling and National. In the larger cities municipally owned fleets dominated, such as the fleet in Liverpool which started operation in 1911 [4]. In Birmingham buses were operated by Birmingham Corporation Tramways, which later changed it's name to Birmingham City Transport, from 1913. They introduced the AEC 504 in 1924 the first bus with a covered top deck [5]. This was the beginning of the classic British double decker, a type which still dominates bus fleets to this day.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act bought new regulation to the motor bus market which saw the elimination of many smaller companies. Outside of London and the other cities with their municipal owned networks Tilling and BET dominated the market. In 1933 London bus services were nationalised in all but name with the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board. More nationalisation was to come.
Preserved B Type bus B340 at London Transport Museum

Leyland LB at Tottenham Court Road, public domain image [1]

Milnes-Daimler bus in London, public domain image [2]

Preserved LNWR Charabanc coach at London Transport Museum

[3] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 116
[4] Martin Jenkins & Charles Roberts, Merseyside Transport Recalled (Ian Allan, 2014) p. 4
[5] Malcom Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1924-1975 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 7

Monday 16 April 2018


The long winter has delayed matters a bit but the first model aeroplane project of the year, Project #081 a Curtis Hawk, has been completed. It has been finished in RAF livery. Next might be a 707...

Sunday 15 April 2018

Reasonable bit of turf

I gave the lawn another cut today, it's fifth of the year already. In fact I last cut it a week ago but it's grown fast in just a week despite the bleak wet weather. The lawn isn't looking too bad and hopefully lopping off some of the tree branches which robbed parts of the lawn of light might help.

Melton Mowbray

One of my aims this year is to explore more of the East Midlands and with that aim in mind i went to Melton Mowbray yesterday. Home of the pork pie and stilton cheese of course, luckily they don't play this up too much and ruins things by making it too touristy... (Stratford-upon-Avon *cough*).

Melton Mowbray remains a very pretty little town with a number of lovely old buildings including a fantastic church. The station is very fine too, though it could do with a better train service. You can see my photos here.

Friday 13 April 2018

ICL 7500

The International Computers Limited (ICL) 7500 was a range of terminals and workstations that worked with the ICL 2900 series mainframe. The range included the 7502 Modular Terminal System, this distributed basic computing tasks such as data input away from the mainframe and was designed for office environments (think typing pools perhaps).

The typist could tap away without worrying about lag on a slow network, the mainframe only getting involved when the typist got to the end of the line and the data was sent to it. The 7502 had quite a meaty enclosure and could hold up to eight PCBs and dual 8-inch floppy drives. The actual terminal which sat on top was known as the ICL 7561.
Public domain image (from here)

Thursday 12 April 2018

Scarfields Dingle Aqueduct

Canal and river Aqueducts come in a variety of sizes, for example the substantial M5 Aqueduct that takes the Tame Valley Canal over the M5 Motorway or the 145m long Edstone aqueduct that takes the Stratford Canal over railway lines.

A rather more modest aqueduct is the Scarfields Dingle Aqueduct near Alvechurch in Worcestershire. The aqueduct has no apparent road or stream it allows under the canal these days, there is a rather low walkway and that is it.

In fact the aqueduct was built for a once well-used track between Alvechurch and Droitwich. The track was built for the salt trade and existed from before the Domesday Book, which lists Alvechurch having a number of salt houses supplied by salt from the saline springs at Droitwich. The track was known as Cobley Lane (the aqueduct is sometimes known as Cobley Lane Aqueduct). More about Cobley Lane can be seen here.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

The British Bus (1) : Heyday of the horsebus

This new series will examine the story of buses in Britain up until deregulation in the 1980s.

Before the bus there was the stagecoach and the first services we could call "buses" were of a similar vein. The difference between a stagecoach and a bus is generally that the latter does not require booking in advance and people can alight throughout the journey, though in the earliest days the technology was the same. The first such service began in Manchester in 1824 thanks to John Greenwood. Omnibus services (as they became known) spread to the other major cities and beyond including the first service in London operated by George Shillibeer in 1829 [2] between Marylebone and the Bank of England.

These buses were horse drawn although there were experiments with steam traction as early as 1830. Government legislation virtually banned the development of motor buses until 1896. This ensured that until the turn of the twentieth century the horse bus reigned supreme. By 1900 there were over three and half thousand horse buses in London alone.

The early days of omnibuses were somewhat wild. Fierce competition led to buses racing each other to compete for passengers. Licences were introduced for drivers and conductors in 1838 in London following complaints by passengers [3]. Initially horse buses were single decker though roof seats began to be introduced in the 1840s as people were climbing onto the roofs of buses anyway so operators thought they should try and get some money out of it!

Experiments with motorised buses began in 1897 with experimental services employing petrol engine buses. Horse buses remained in service for a number of years but their days were numbered. Services ended in London in 1914 as the horses were unfortunately needed for a sadder purpose: the First World War. Outside of the capital horse buses remained in some areas until the early 1930s.
London Omnibus (National Archives [1])
London General Omnibus Company 'garden seat' type horse bus, circa 1881 preserved at LTM Acton
Shillibeer bus preserved at London Transport Museum
[2] Horse buses in London
[3] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 106

Sunday 8 April 2018

Wycombe Museum

As I said a few weeks ago I intended to visit more local museums, so yesterday I went to Wycombe Museum. The museum itself is an exhibit, it is inside a Grade II listed house parts of which date from the sixteenth century, the house is built atop the motte of a former castle built in the twelfth century (hence it's name Castle Hill House).

The museum has a small but interesting collection, mainly from local trades. Wycombe was a major centre of the chair making industry from the eighteenth century onwards. So there are a lot of chairs. I particularly liked the 1920s kitchen.

Saturday 7 April 2018

High Wycombe

Like a number of places I've visited lately I've travelled through High Wycombe many times but never stopped off to have a look around. It is a very interesting place with some nice sights and also some rather steep hills. Now I thought learning to drive in Erdington was good for teaching me how to do hill starts, that must be nothing compared to learning in Wycombe!

I had a walk along the interestingly named Dyke water feature, took some photos of a rather lovely church and visited the local museum. You can see my photos here.

Friday 6 April 2018

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Golden Age (8) : The Mystery Of The Mud Flats

This novel by Maurice Drake is an interesting tale of mystery, chemistry and adventure on the High Seas... or rather the North Sea and Dutch coast.

Although released as part of the Collins Detective Story Club in 1929 (after being released first as WO2 in 1913) it is not really a detective story although one of the characters does a good job in finding out what is going on - though more in the vein of a secret agent than an Inspector from Scotland Yard.

It is an engaging and atmospheric story told in the first person with an intriguing bunch of characters. Also interesting about the story is that there are no real "good guys", even our heroes are on the con to various degrees but as the book was published when it was and other lot are German then of course we are supposed to root for them!

Monday 2 April 2018


After a couple of days of staying indoors I needed to get out, even if it was just a little trip out (and the weather still wasn't that good). So i made one of my short local trips, this time to Wythall. I took some photos of the station and the local area. I did plan to come here later in the year to go to the transport museum nearby, but we'll do that on a sunnier day! You can see my photos here.