There is a brilliant chapter on the development of Elite in Backroom Boys by Francis Spufford. A book well worth reading anyway but that chapter is superb.
18 posts • joined 2 May 2013
A schoolfriend and I made Geoffrey Perkins's acquaintance when RadioActive (remember them?) came to perform at our school theatre on their way to Edinburgh. He later organised for us a tour of Broadcasting House. We met him in an editing suite where he and an editor were frantically trying to edit the second series of HHGTTG before RadioActive flew to Australia for a tour the following morning. The floor was knee deep in tape offcuts (the days when all tape editing was done with a razor blade and sticky tape) and he wasn't sure whether they would finish it all in time. I believe they did.
He did tell us that Douglas Adams suffered from terrible writer's block (fairly well known, I think) and would frequently turn up to recording sessions having written precisely nothing. He would sit in the next room with a stack of carbon paper, writing out the script by hand. It would be taken into the studio and recorded immediately the sheets were torn off the carbon pad. Sheer genius!
...that they are incapable - still - of detecting explosives in luggage. Why on earth do they bother scanning everything and everyone that goes on a plane? What exactly are they looking for? If they can't reliably detect explosive substances, then they should stop pretending they can.
Time to quote CP Snow...
"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?
"I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."
OK, he was talking about physics but his point remains valid about science and technology in general. It's OK to be completely ignorant about them and still be regarded as well educated and qualified to run the country.
The story about Coventry has been, I think, comprehensively debunked. There is no evidence that the target of the raid was known before the afternoon of that day when the German navigation beams were switched on and converged over Coventry. There were messages warning of an imminent raid but three targets were given, no definite date was specified and the cities were given codenames. The codename for Coventry was not worked out until after the event.
Sounds trite but, as the saying goes, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." In order to win the Battle of the Atlantic, the information that the U-boat codes had been broken had to be protected. At all costs. And, yes, that meant some convoys were not completely protected. War is a nasty business.
But, it is indisputable that the knowledge of Colossus which emerged in the late 70's and continues to emerge today, completely rewrote the history of the birth of electronic computing.
That aside, thankyou so much for this article. BP is a world-class site aned deserves all the attention it can get. Anyone with a remote interest in computing and history will be completely enthralled by the place.
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