Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Review of 2018 : April

Spring finally arrived, though would very quickly be usurped by what would feel like the endless Summer. The month began with a trip to Wythall, followed a few days later by High Wycombe - dyke, chair museum and all. Melton Mowbray was also visited, though no pork pies were consumed.

At the end of the month came a couple of canal walks, both along the Trent & Mersey Canal. First in Willington and then in Stoke-on-Trent (plus also a short walk on the Caldon Canal). The city and it's railways were also of interest.

Song of the month was "invisible chains" by Mood Robot.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Creating a Christmas card on an IBM 1401

Back in the days of "old iron", when computers filled large rooms and printers were huge noisy affairs... creating novelty calenders and cards was quite the thing. The Snoopy calender from 1969 was something every "real programmer" had apparently. But how about using an IBM 1401 mainframe (and a 1403 printer) to create a greeting card for Christmas?

Ken Shirriff (who's blog is one of the best out there) took up the challenge. It's not quite as simple as it sounds as the card needs to be folded and so normal printed text would be sideways. Here is how to do it using BDCDIC characters. The code is provided in case you have a handy IBM 1401 yourself (unfortunately I don't). Or just watch the video below.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Review of 2018 : March

The weather turned bad in March but despite the snow i was still able to make a number of trips. At the start of the month came short-range trips to Earlswood and Dorridge. Later on in the month I went to Banbury intending to do a canal walk but as it was pouring down I went to Haddenham instead.

Mid-month I made my first trip to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway this year for it's diesel locomotive event, which was interesting considering the frequent blizzards. At the end of the month came two canal walks, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Avlechurch and the Oxford Canal in Banbury.

Song of the month was "how do you sleep" by Chatham Rise.

Saturday, 8 December 2018


Today I visited Northampton for the first time and did some decent waterway walking along the river Nene and the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal. Maybe in parts not the most scenic of waterways but it can't always be a rural idyll, however some parts were indeed jolly nice. Definitely a place that calls for more exploring. You can see my waterway photos here.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Review of 2018 : February

The shortest month but so much activity packed into it. I travelled to Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands, two delightful villages which sound like characters or settings in a 1930s crime novel. I also headed to London and visited the Clapham South underground shelter, the latest Hidden London tour I have done.

After this came a visit to Stafford and then a first visit to the fine city of Sheffield, including a visit to the splendid Emergency Services Museum.

Song of the month was "infinite repeats" by Freeweights.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Double Derby Brush

Two Brush Type 4s / Class 47s roll back the years with a rail tour at Derby.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Review of 2018 : January

As the year approaches an end it is time for our traditional review. As with 2017 it was a busy year especially for travelling around the country. However it didn't turn out quite as originally planned. At the start of 2018 the intention was to explore the South West. Things got off to a good start on that score with a canal walk from Stonehouse to Stroud. However since then I haven't been back to the South West! Maybe 2019?

Also in January a paid a visit to Shenstone and it's rather interesting church, visited the Thinktank (Birmingham's science museum) and Nuneaton station. All in all a good start to the year.

Song of the month was "drones" by Night Drive.

Monday, 3 December 2018

A legacy of punched cards

One interesting aspect of computing is that older generations of computing, now long obsolete, still have left their mark on computers people use every day. An example of this is in ASCII, the standard for encoding characters like these ones in a computer. If you look at an ASCII chart (and one is shown below) you will notice something strange. The first thirty two spaces in the chart are reserved for control codes (things like carriage return, bell et cetera*)... all except the code for DEL(ete) which is at the very end of the chart below. So why is this control code separated from the rest of them?

The reason is because of punched cards, a method of data storage now no longer used. With punched cards binary data was encoded by a hole in the card or the lack of one. The best way to tell a computer to ignore a character (or delete it) was to punch all of the holes in that character which in those days was encoded in seven bits. Therefore 1111111 (in binary) was delete. In hexadecimal that is 7F which is where the DEL control code is in the chart below.
Public domain image from Wikipedia

* Many of these control codes were intended for teletypes and have little utility these days.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Gerrards Cross

I visited Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire yesterday. Although it is a nice place there wasn't a huge amount to see there apart from the railway station, and the bad weather did curtail things a bit. However I was able to tick off another station visited, i am trying to visit every single one in the country. It will take me nearly thirty years at the current rate but I do like a challenge!