Wednesday 31 October 2018

Gardening update

With Winter approaching maybe it's time for a little review of how the gardening has gone in 2018. Well apart from cutting things down not a great deal has happened. The herb garden is still doing really well. The raised bed is starting to show some wear and tear though (it is over five years old now) so i'll have to do some reinforcements next year or over the Winter.

The lawn was doing well until the drought, it hasn't yet recovered and is rather patchy. The second raised bed is now settling down ready for some plants next year. Maybe in 2019 there can be more new plants instead of just cutting bits off the existing ones.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Castles (6) : Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth castle is ruins nowadays, though recognisable as having once being a substantial castle. The castle and it's predecessor have had a troubled history.

The first Aberystwyth castle was a motte and bailey castle built in 1100 to the South of the current castle. The castle was besieged and later burnt down in 1136. The castle was rebuilt but burnt down again at a later date. The current Aberystwyth castle was built by Edward I in 1277. However it was captured and burned down just a few years later!

The castle was finally considered finished in 1289 though by the 1340s it was already said to be in a state of disrepair. However it continued to be an important political centre being well situated on the coast and next to a thriving town. The castle was captured by Owain Glynd┼Ár in 1404 during the Welsh uprising.  The castle was finally destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, the castle having been a royalist centre and mint during the Civil War.

Sunday 28 October 2018

Remodelled Derby

I went to Derby yesterday for the first time since the early Summer. The station has undergone a lot of change with new signalling, a changed layout and a whole new platform so I thought I'd go up and see how it looks now! Unfortunately the old staging siding at either end of the station are now gone, there always used to be at least one old locomotive resting there. However the ends of the platform are better. You still get some good sights at Derby, including a rail tour yesterday. You can see my photos here.

Thursday 25 October 2018


The usual history of graphic user interfaces goes like this: Xerox PARC invented them in the 1970s and Apple got inspired to build their own closely followed by X Windows and Microsoft... Well it didn't quite happen that way. Xerox were not the first to develop GUI technology and in the late 1970s and early 1980s there were a number of other GUIs in development.

Blit was a multi-tasking windowing environment developed by AT&T in the early 1980s. It ran on the AT&T 5620 which might be termed more a smart terminal than a computer but it had a M68K processor - like the first Macs - and so was quite powerful for it's day. The 5620 could be connected to a Unix computer via an RS-232 connection. The GUI is familiar but also had some interesting ideas, somewhat similar to Smalltalk systems in some ways and early X Windows. The video is well worth a watch.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Castles (5) : Stamford

Stamford Castle was a Norman structure built around 1075. It was built on a small hill overlooking the river Welland and the west of the town of Stamford. Little details of the castle's early existence are known though it thought to have been a standard motte and bailey design. The castle may have been built on the site of earlier fortifications.

The castle was besieged in the civil wars of the twelfth century but fell into decay in the following century when it was described as old and decayed.

The castle was largely demolished in 1484, the site remaining vacant for hundreds of years before being built on in the twentieth century. All that remains of the castle now are a small part of the curtain wall.

Monday 22 October 2018

Waterways of Manchester

Manchester has a lot of waterways just like Birmingham and London, the most famous one is the Ship Canal of course though I haven't visited that yet. Instead I walked parts of the Bridgewater and Rochdale Canals which meet at Castlefield Junction. You can see my Bridgewater Canal photos here and the Rochdale Canal photos here.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Manchester Science & Industry Museum

The Science & Industry Museum in Manchester is part of the Science Museum group along with the main museum in London and the National Railway Museum in York. I visited the Science & Industry Museum yesterday and greatly enjoyed the exhibits, especially the railway and aviation halls. Among the exhibits at the museum include surviving parts of the very first "proper" railway Manchester Liverpool Road (from 1830), an Avro Shackleton and Rocket - maybe the only steam locomotive that can rival Flying Scotsman for fame. You can see my photos from the museum here.

Manchester at last!

I haven't been to Manchester before and as I'm nearly fifty I thought it was high time. After last week's last minute postponement due to the weather I finally made it to the fine city in the North West yesterday. It was worth the wait as Manchester is great and I'm sure to return many times in future. I visited the Museum of Science and Industry, walked two canals and travelled around on the tram a bit too. You can see my rail related photos here. More about the museum and canals later.

Friday 19 October 2018

Wednesday 17 October 2018

COMAL (Common Algorithmic Language)

COMAL was a programming language first developed in Denmark in 1973 by Borge R. Christensen and Benedict Lofstedt [1]. The language was a structured language and heavily influenced by contemporary popular educational languages including BASIC and Pascal, indeed the intention of the developers of COMAL was to try and combine the simplicity of BASIC with the power of Pascal [2].

What made COMAL stand out was that it was available for 8-bit microcomputers in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was one of the few structured languages available for those computers at the time. Though like a number of "alternative" languages (like Forth on the Jupiter Ace) BASIC proved impossible to dislodge as the language "everyone" had.

COMAL did have some success though and is still used to this day as a teaching language, it was especially popular in Ireland in the 1980s where Apple supplied around five hundred Apple IIs running COMAL-80 to schools. Earlier versions of COMAL had no graphics commands but these were added later on especially to Commodore implementations of the language which included turtle graphics.

Now for some examples of COMAL, if you are familiar with languages like BASIC then COMAL will seem very familiar:



0050 NEXT NO

[1] John Kelly, Foundations in Computer Studies with COMAL (2nd Edition) (Educational Company of Ireland, 1984) p. vii
[2] Borge R. Christensen, Beginning COMAL (Ellis Horwood, 1982) p. 6

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Golden Age (14) : Serpents in Eden

A highly enjoyable collection of short-stories featuring Golden Age era (though not necessarily genre) mystery and crime. The theme is crime that takes place in the sleepy hamlet and quiet village but apart from that there is a great variety of story here. Some of the crimes being quite mundane too such as Margery Allingham's "A proper mystery" which involves a trodden down plot at a flower show.

But there are also some rather more serious crimes such as in Ethel Lina White's very atmospheric "The scarecrow" about an escaped madman who is out to kill the woman he failed to before. My favourite though is E.C. Bentley's "The genuine tabard" about stolen historical artefacts and fooling rich Americans to buy them.

Saturday 13 October 2018


Originally I planned to go to Manchester today but the weather in the North West (and Wales) was awful so I headed South East instead and by the time I got to Rickmansworth the rain had stopped and the Sun had come out (and was remarkably warm for mid-October). I walked the Grand Union Canal, I didn't do as much as I intended as I got a blister on my foot but i'll return. Rickmansworth is a nice town in Hertfordshire, deep in what became known as "Metro-Land" to the North West of London. You can see my canal photos here.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Jupiter Ace

One characteristic was common to the microcomputers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, they all tended to have BASIC included on a system ROM. Well there was one notable exception, the Jupiter Ace. It was the first home computer to be based on Forth instead of BASIC [1]. The Ace was developed by British company Jupiter Cantab and released in 1982.

Apart from Forth the Ace was quite typical of the period having a Z80A CPU at it's heart and 1KB of RAM (my Mac has four million times as much memory), in terms of form factor it was not unlike the Sinclair ZX81 though a different colour of course and with rubber keys. It also had quite a different internal arrangement though not unlike the Spectrum in some ways (the designers were ex-Sinclair who had worked on the ZX81 and Spectrum).

Forth was chosen as it was considered ideal for a computer like the Ace being fast and compact and a structured language compared to the BASICs of the time. Unfortunately the Ace didn't catch on, the lack of BASIC ended up being a massive hinderance not a bonus. When you are swimming against the flow you need to be really really good and the Ace, despite some nice features, was not. Its graphics were low resolution black and white (64x48) and it lacked decent sound. Forth was also not as easy for beginners to learn compared to BASIC.

For the average home user it was not really that attractive though the inclusion of Forth and the ability to expand the Ace to 51K meant it had appeal to hobbyists. However there were not enough of them to make it a hit.

Around five thousand of the original Ace and eight hundred of the Ace 4000 with an improved case are reported to have been sold. The Ace was discontinued in 1984.

[1] Max Philips, Microcomputer Catalogue (Marshall Cavendish, 1983) p. 14

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Golden Age (13) : Weekend at Thrackley

Better known as a broadcaster Alan Melville wrote a number of novels in the 1930s including the already reviewed Quick Curtain and this novel which is another witty crime caper. Weekend at Thrackley is pure Golden Age, crimes take place in a country house and are solved by plucky amateurs helped by the police.

What makes Thrackley stand out is the intriguing nature of the crimes, although murders do take place the main focus of the story is jewel theft and forgery. The latter takes place in a secret underground lair, like a prototype Bond villain base.

There are many things to enjoy and intrigue in this story, one being the presence of our hero Jim. Why he has been invited to the house as he isn't rich or famous like the other guests is a mystery that keeps one guessing right to the end.

Monday 8 October 2018

Sunday 7 October 2018

Banbury Cross and religious radicalism

The current Banbury Cross dates from 1859 and was built to celebrate the marriage of Princess Victoria to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Later additions also commemorated the coronation of King George V. It was the first cross the Oxfordshire town had had for over 250 years after several previous medieval crosses were destroyed by the Puritans. The destruction of the crosses is just one event from the town's radical past.

Banbury has a long history of radical religion with Puritans also disputing the erection of a maypole in the town in 1589, the maypole was destroyed sparking riots. The old crosses were destroyed in 1600 as they were seen by Puritans as objects of superstitious veneration. Even before the Reformation Banbury was known for its unorthodox religion, the phrase "Banbury gloss" meaning twisting of the truth may refer to what was seen as erroneous readings of Scripture.

Camden's Britannica from 1610 stated that Banbury was known for "cheese, cakes, and zeal"! In the 17th century the phrase "Banbury Man" was used as a derogatory term for a Puritan which is evidence that the town well known to outsiders for religious radicalism. The town had become one of the major centres for Quakers and Presbyterians also flourished. By the 18th century however the town's religious zeal was on the decline with the High Church (establishment backed Anglicanism) welcomed back in the town though religious radicals continued to have influence.

The Banbury Cross is mentioned in a nursery rhyme "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross" though this likely refers to the earlier crosses as the earliest recorded versions of the rhyme predate the current cross by some margin in the mid-18th century.
Colvin, Christina, Janet Cooper, N H Cooper, P D A Harvey, Marjory Hollings, Judith Hook, Mary Jessup, Mary D Lobel, J F A Mason, B S Trinder and Hilary Turner. 'Banbury: Introduction.' A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred. Ed. Alan Crossley. London: Victoria County History, 1972. 5-18. British History Online. Web. 3 March 2015.

Friday 5 October 2018

50s at 50

The Class 50 locomotive celebrates it's fiftieth birthday this year. To celebrate the Severn Valley Railway held a special gala with as many surviving Class 50s as possible (i believe eleven attended) and nearly all in working order. So another diesel gala them, just with the same locomotive type being used! I had a great day on the SVR visiting Kidderminster, Bewdley and Hampton Loade and you can see my photos here.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Golden Age (12) : The Mystery at Stowe

The rather excellent Mystery at Stowe by Vernon Loder (aka John Vahey) could be the perfect Golden Age detective novel: its set in a nice country house in late 1920s England, bumbling police are set right by the keen amateur (although he apparently has some detective work before while administering the natives in some far flung corner of the Empire) and the murder weapon a mysterious artifact of the tribes from South America...

In fact it could almost be too much, in the hands of a less skilful writer it could easily have descended into self-parody but Loder produced a fine work here with some interesting detective work. Maybe it falls down on the final reveal, being a bit implausible. But then again that wasn't exactly an uncommon Golden Age trait either.

Monday 1 October 2018

Back to Bedford

On Saturday I made my return to Bedford, i had been once before early last year though I didn't leave the station then. This time I wanted to walk along the Great Ouse river that flows through the county town. It is a very nice stretch of waterway with plenty of bridges, locks and even the mound of a castle along the river. You can see my Great Ouse photos here.