Category Archives: life stuff

life stuff thoughts

Things that know one notices

The area above your lips but below your nose is called the Philtrum. The ends of shoe laces are called Aglets The little flap at the front of the ear is called the Tragus. I like knowing slightly odd facts like those.  There are lots of odd little  things that are around us,we see  them every day but rarely do we  really notice them.

Something that has fascinated me are the green metal boxes on pavements  that are used by B.T. What are they used for, what do they do? why are they there? and probably most interestingly what is inside them?

There was one across the road from where I lived growing up, when I was very young it was where my mum met me on my way home from school so I could cross the busy road safely. It is next to a bus stop where when I was a little older it was where I would wait for busses to go to town on my own, my first taste of freedom. A little older still it is where I would wait for a bus to go to college and work, my first experience of adult life.

I can remember a couple of times  seeing a B.T technician working at the box, sat on a stool maybe with some test equipment and some sort of test telephone,never saw properly inside one but have a vague recollection of lots of wires . It wasn't until I  came to London and have come across ones that have been left open.

 

GreenBox1 GreenBox2 GreenBox3

 

None of these are the same, and I don't think they are for the B.T telephones and neither are they how I think the one in my village was. A couple of minutes Googling  for 'Green boxes on the side of the road' soon reveals that they are properly called Primary connection points.  I imagine that to find out exactly what the 3 boxes above are used is a lot more difficult.

When taking the photos I felt slightly naughty, like i was trespassing, looking at secrets without permission. That might seem odd but these boxes are so common but rarely opened to look at.  There are probably all sorts of infrastructure around us that we barely notice but needs to be there and to work if we want our telephones to work, the traffic lights to turn red and green at the correct time, street lights to turn on and all sorts of other equipment to work as expected.

So the next time you see a green or grey or black box don't just pass it by have a think about what it might be for. It might just look a mess of wires inside but there is a good chance it is part of an amazing system that all use and rely on.  There may be hundreds if not thousand of miles of cables connecting to that box. The other ends may go to control rooms or data centres and have people carefully monitoring terminals, to keep these systems running smoothly. Most of the time the systems and infrastructure are hidden but occasionally there is a chance to peek inside.  You are getting chance to look at a hidden world,don't waste it.

 

 

life stuff thoughts

Goin' darn t' Steelos

I've been on holiday last week so have been visiting some museums and exhibitions, looking what new and interesting A.V and multimedia is being used, what is good and what is bad, any good ideas i can borrow and any i might want to stay away from.

A well as that I've been catching up on some projects, working on code that I wasn't happy with and learning some new things. While i'm working I like to listen to music and quite often put on Folk music.

From  listening to John Tams found that  Spotify  has the music from the 2006 Radio Ballads. The  original Radio Ballads were a set of 8  Radio programmes that were recorded between 1957 - 1964 telling the stories of people from communities,industries and groups of people that hadn't been told before.   Some of these then were thriving industries such as coal miners and ship builders that have now almost completely vanished from the U.K. The programmes on Teenagers and the building of the M1 told stories that at the time were  emergent at the time but have since become major part of life.

Anyway i haven't listened to all of the 2006 Ballads but have listened several times to 'The Song of Steel' This tells the stories of the men and women who worked in the Sheffield Steel industry. There are interviews with men who worked at the forges and rolling mills.  Some of the stories make me cringe, the conditions sound horrendous. Many of the experiences have been interpreted as songs by folk musicians.   'Mucky River' is about the pollution in the River Don. The water was used for  cooling. Cyanide was used to clean the metal that needed to be inspected .

"I had enough Cyanide to poison half of Sheffield"

"Then when were finished at the end of the day What did we do with it , pour it down the drains"

"This is maybe why all the Salmon disappeared from Salmon pastures"

'Crane Driver' tells the story of a woman who managed to get a job on crane because another woman had fallen from a crane onto a pile of Steel Billets, killing her.  The women were able to get jobs during the war but at the end as the men came out of the army were forced to leave.

'Steelos'  that tells of the Firm Steel,Peech and Tozer. An absolutely massive Factory at Templeborough on the outskirts of Rotherham.

"There were 100,000 of us along the Rother and the Don"

"Catching red hot metal coming 40 mile an hour"

 

After a long period of decline Steelos  finally closed in 1993, I can't imagine any factory or single site in any industry employing 100,000 people today.  The Steel industry in Sheffield employs just a fraction of that now.

 

The site of Steel,Peech and Tozer has become the Magna Science Adventure Centre  I visited Magna not long after it opened and remember looking at some of the interactives and thinking "I would love to get a job making things like these, but not the faintest idea how to go about it" it took over 10 years before I managed to make that happen and it came about from looking for opportunities not from actually knowing how to get what I wanted.

 

If anyone thinks that modern Health and Safety rules are " Nanny State" and interfering busy bodies, listen to Fireland,really listen to it and then tell me that today's laws are "Health and Safety gone mad".

"They had a mishap one day and it blew back, it caught 7 or 8 of them and blew hot gas into their lungs"

"I was totally engulfed in flame"

"Seeing all the skin hanging off but lucky to be alive"

"No such thing as Safety boots"

"kid called Mick got a bar through bar through knee, he had to pull it out"

"It were like a hosepipe squirting molten metal on him, obviously he were dead"

 

I only have memories of the Steel industry during its decline, Seeing buildings in the lower Don valley being knocked down with record times painted on them showing the achievements for that site.  I don't know what those times were for but they must have been important to those that worked there.

At the Science Museum there is a Gallery that was sponsored by companies in the Steel industry, most of these are gone,either merged,closed down or bought out by other companies.

There is  still  some specialised produced  steel for the Nuclear and Aerospace industries. The AMRC  is developing tools and techniques to improve British manufacturing,the days of  thousands of people being employed in the Sheffield Steel industry will never return.

There is a good BBC podcast about the AMRC and the revival of Manufacturing in Sheffield.  At the start of my career I worked for two engineering companies one in Slough one university work placement  and one in Sheffield after university both closed down. After being made redundant from the second one I decided that was enough of engineering for me, time to move on.

Sheffield doesn't really seem know what its doing.  It tried to be the City of Sport, but the Don Valley Stadium closed last year.  It has tried to become a centre for the creative industries but from a conversation I was having on twitter a few days ago that seems to be stumbling, it is losing out to Manchester and London.

I realise that I have written similar words before and I will probably write similar things again in the future.  I might not be in Sheffield but Sheffield is in my head and my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

life stuff thoughts

Why I do what I do

This post was going to be an introduction to what is now my next post, but it got a bit long so decided it deserved to be on its own. Enjoy

 

200_1_Electronic04

When I was young my parents really tried to make sure my Birthday and Christmas presents had an educational value to them.  At various birthdays and Christmases I was given a Chemistry set, a Microscope, an Acorn Electron computer, Lego and a Radio Shack 200 in 1 electronics kit (That is what the photo above is).  I didn't complain. I loved Science and technology. My favourite T.V programmes were Tomorrows World and anything that had Johnny Ball in it. I was fascinated by everything around me and my favourite hobby was taking things apart.

The Chemistry set and Microscope had some initial interest but after mixing a few chemicals, writing down what colour they changed to, looking at a fruit fly and salt crystals a few times both were consigned to the cupboard and later given away, sent to a charity shop or Jumble sale.

But the Lego, Electronics kit and Acorn Electron were a different story. At different times in my childhood playing with these took up a lot of my spare time. Especially the Acorn Electron.  I subscribed to Electron User magazine and would spend hour after hour typing in the printed programs every month and then spend an equal amount of time or longer debugging these programs.  Saving and loading to cassette tape between sessions. There was no cloud storage, usb flash keys or hard drives.  A 3 1/2"  floppy disk drive came later. The performance and storage capacity was amazing.

I started learning assembly language, and was able to get the computer to do all sorts of things it wasn't really supposed to.  It would crash all the time but a quick re-boot fixed it. My dad thought I had broken it with my messing because he couldn't load a program from tape.  It turned out he was typing the command wrong.

I did actually break it later on.  I wanted to see if it would still work if I took some of the chips out of it.  Unfortunately I was doing this in my bedroom and heard my dad coming up the stairs so quickly re-assembled it badly.  It didn't work.

Thinking about these toys and experiences now it was clear that although I have always been fascinated by Science and enjoy finding out and learning about what is happening I was never going to be a Scientist.

I'm not motivated by discovering new things.  Discovering what  the tiniest particles in the universe are or how Bacteria or Viruses behave is amazing but its not for me.  I love an end product.

All the research and discoveries that now mean I can write an app for a computer that is connected to the internet but not sat on a desk fixed down by a cable,  can find its location anywhere on earth and has the processing power and battery life to run that app make me so happy. I am amazed by the science but I want to be the person writing the app at the end of the chain not the person discovering the materials and processes that make it possible.

That is one of the things that makes my job at the Science Museum so cool.  I do a job I love and am surrounded by the latest and historical science that other people have worked on and made the discoveries in.

 

 

 

 

life stuff thoughts

Oh Sheffield, I might not show it but I still love you.

If like most sensible people you watched The Big Melt on Sunday evening you would have seen the City of Sheffield in all its glory.

The Big Melt

 

The film is a stirring mix of music and video showing the city, its people and its industry. I recognised some of the places and  factories shown. My Grandfather was a plumber at Samuel Fox and Son.  I worked at a company that was a spin off from Moore and Wright who had developed the world's first digital micrometer, so there was a lot of personal nostalgia and connections in the film.

But the film like  shows a world that no longer exists.  Gone are the multitude of Steelworks producing the steel that built the cars and bridges shown in the film.  Gone too are the the  hundreds of chimneys of those steelworks spewing out the pollution and filth through the valley and gone too are the jobs employing  thousands of workers with just a handkerchief , Donkey jacket and a bucketful of good luck  to protect them from the molten metal and fiery furnace they were working at.

There are many people who want the return of  those so called  'good old days'  often forgetting the poverty and poor health that accompanied them.  I'm not one of them. The days of a single industry providing mass employment to an entire city are gone.  Automation and mechanisation means that in the western world at least it will always be cheaper to install robots and machines than to rely on strength and brute force of people working from the day they leave school until they retire or drop dead.  And thats how it should be.

But there needs to be jobs to take the place of the lost manual, industrial work and that doesn't seem to be happening.

The Centre for Cities has published its Cities Outlook 2014 report today and it makes me sad that Sheffield seems to be at  or near the bottom in most of the measures.

From the Guardian article :

"Highlighting the need for better infrastructure, investment in skills and reforms to planning, the report noted that Bradford,Sheffield, Bristol,Southampton, Blackpool and Glasgow saw employment shrink in both private and public sectors."

Probably one of the most worrying points of that report is the note that for digital connectivity "Of the large cities, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield all had access rates lower than the city average."

For a City wanting to grow its digital and creative sectors this is a big worry.

That Guardian article is all about people migrating from provinces to London and not returning.   I resisted leaving Sheffield for a long time, I was born and brought up there,I returned there after University,  I still love it dearly and I know that a lot of people who live there still find it an amazing place.  But for me I couldn't find anything to get excited about any longer,  I had explored its nooks and crannys, wondered down the back streets and ginnels. There will be things to discover, stories to tell and be excited about but now I'm happy to leave those discoveries and stories to other people.

I live in London now and don't see a permanent return to Sheffield or the North anytime soon,  but it shouldn't have to be like that. There should be interesting,engaging work available throughout the country. Maybe its not realistic that every city could provide a full range of industries so that no one needs to move but surely its not sustainable that London and the South East continues growing still seemingly funded by fat cat bankers at the expense of the the rest of the country. I haven't the faintest idea how to achieve this.

Maybe it will takes more initiatives similar to the BBC move to Salford Quays. Maybe it needs the politicians in Westminster to take a stand and come up with policies that will improve the rest of the country even if its to the detriment of the Capital.

I just really hope that in fifty years time we aren't looking back to the early 21st Century wondering why no one thought to make a changes before it all went wrong.

life stuff thoughts

The most important thing I ever learnt at school - Look Up

I Learnt a lot of stuff at school,some of it stuck in my head,some of it escaped as soon as it got the chance.

I think sometimes they were having a laugh with the stuff they taught us. Teaching that the Earth and all the universe was made millions of years ago in the big bang one lesson then teaching that God made the Earth and all the universe not that long ago in 6 days a couple of lessons later.Probably hoping we would have forgot what the last teacher taught us.

And while we are on the subject of Science it turns out that whole electrons orbit the Nucleus like planets orbit the Sun is a bit shaky to say the least as well.

But I don’t actually think any of the proper formal subjects we were taught was the most important thing I ever learnt at school. It was taught well before it came time for GCSEs,exams and all the stress of worrying about what would come after school.

It was either the 1st or 2nd year and we were doing a project called ‘our city’ where we had to explore our city and do different art and writing projects about it.

To help with this they took us into the city for a day a we took part in several activities.One of these was to walk around and look up at the buildings. When I say look up I mean actually look up,look above the facades of the High street stores and look at the actual buildings themselves,look at the different architecture,look at the interesting features unique to a particular period,style or individual building.

It didn’t really sink in much at the time,but that is often something I do whenever I am in a new place. A lot of towns and cities are far more interesting if you just look above the ordinary and familiar.

I’ve also come to realise the Look Up can be more of a metaphor for life in general.  Before coming to the Science Museum I had fallen into a really dull job that I hated.  It was only looking up above the familiar facades of the industry and job role I was in that I could see an escape.

Looking up created the opportunity but also gave me the skills to take it. Doing online courses,reading art,design,science and  technology blogs meant I had some of the skills that were needed so was able to show that even though I didn’t have any museum experience I would be a good bet for the job.

Now I still read the blogs and do the courses but living in London has opened up a all new world of lectures,exhibitions,meetups . In the last few weeks i’ve been to London Geek Girls Dinners,Internet of Things meetup, a lecture on Arab navigation and tonight a exhibition of biomimetic Robots.  All of these things aren’t necessarily directly connected with the work I do or the technology I am interested in but talking to different people,finding out about different things can shed new light and insights on things and get me thinking about things in different ways.

So yeah any time you are in a new place I really recommend that you Look Up.

life stuff thoughts

3D Printing,this time its personal

There is a lot of Hype around 3D printing at the moment. Some of it is really good such as 3D Printed Solar Cells and some of it is a lot more controversial .

My opinion is that like a lot of new technologies we aren’t quite there yet, prices are coming down,software is getting better and people are finding more and more interesting and innovative uses for 3D printers but I don’t think yet anyone has hit on the killer app. That one thing that will really embed 3D printing in everyones consciousness and be the tipping point that takes it from cool interesting technology to something that is on sale on every high street.

But as well as the growth in mainstream 3D printing there is also more specialist uses. I found out a few days ago that Scientists can now print Human bladders and reading about them on the internet there is a lot of research going on into 3D printing organs that are either difficult or impossible to transplant.

The reason I care about this is because my dad died of bladder cancer.  I don’t know if he would have been able to have a 3D printed bladder if they had been available back in the late 1990s, I don’t know if it would have cured him as I think it was too far advanced by the time he was diagnosed and despite having his bladder removed and then further treatments of chemotherapy  he wasn’t able to recover.

The discussion about 3D printed Bladders did remind me though it is really important that Science and Medicine get the funding that they deserve and that research and treatments keep getting  pioneered and  that schools and universities  are properly resourced to teach next generations of Doctors, scientists and Engineers.

Who knows how long it will take for 3D printed organs to be common place but hopefully soon they will become a practical reality and be able to save lives and remove pain and suffering.

life stuff museums thoughts

Cuts,Cuts and more cuts

So today you may have seen stories like this one

Science Museum Group says cuts put museums at risk and http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jun/05/science-museum-northern-outposts-threat-closure  Both of which seem pretty fair and well balanced but there have also been articles like this one:  Outrage as iconic Northern museums face closure to save London Science Museum   With comments in it like “Insane that a London based organisation may be allowed to destroy 3 magnificent Northern Treasures.” and ““Something like 90 per cent of the funding for art galleries and museums goes into London already. It’s an extraordinary amount.”

Last Financial year visitors to the Science museum passed the 3 million mark for the first time ,Numbers are also up at Museum of Science and Industry, and the Railway Museum. Yet as the article on the BBC and guardian sites and the interview with the Director Ian Blatchford says the money from Government has been cut and is likely to be cut even more.  So the Science museum as a group  has been doing more with less.

Before I started work at the Science Museum I never realised how much thought and hard work goes into all the new exhibits and how much hard work there is that never gets seen by the public.

I work in an office with Content developers who are real Proper Scientists whose job is to turn difficult Scientific and technical concepts into  short passages of  text and images that won’t bore or overwhelm the visitors but hopefully will give them a much better understanding of this crazy world we live in, the technology that impacts our lives and what makes our own bodies work.

The New Media Department that I work in helps the content developers and  Curators bring to life ideas and concepts that can’t be expressed in words and picture alone by getting creative and as I said in a previous post Bringing the Rainbow but never forgetting the message.

Then all of the exhibits we install have to be kept operational and safe by our A.V and mechanical maintenance  teams and as the museum is open 10am - 6pm 364 days a year plus many days we open later and for that is no mean feat.

So this is the point that it gets political, Sorry.  The Science museum isn’t going to be closed down to save money as it is controlled by an act of parliment The 1983 National heritage act which sets out what the Board of Trustees must do so without changing that, which I can imagine would be massively complex and messy and would be a such a bad P.R move for the government I can’t imagine that even David Cameron would be stupid enough to do that.

However I get the feeling that the Government knows this and also knows that the other museums are located in the North of England, an area of which the Conservatives don’t have a good historical record of giving a stuff about.

So I really hope that people in Manchester,Bradford and York aren’t thinking that the Science Museum in London is some evil entity intent on destroying their museums because it is nothing like that.  People who work in Museums love museums, its not a competition thing, no other museum benefits if one closes.  I don’t know what will happen if the Government spending cuts go through, I don’t know if I will still have a job or what the effects will be in our office,the Science museum London or the group as a whole but I do know one thing and that is the reason for the possible cuts aren’t down to decisions made in South Kensington but decision made in Westminster.

life stuff thoughts

Been busy

Time flies when you are having fun. And I have been having fun.  Since my last post I have moved to London to start a job as New Media engineer at the Science museum. fI  The museum is a great place to work, the work is really rewarding and the people I work with are so inspiring.  On a Sunday evening I now look forward to getting up on the Monday to see what the following week will have in store.

When I’m not working I now play Roller Derby for the London Rollergirls.  So its been a busy few months, but I’ve been on holiday for the last week. Not gone anywhere just stayed in London and relaxed. I’ve  taken the chance to have some long  lie-ins and explore London a bit more

With all these changes over the past few months I haven’t had much chance to work on my personal projects much, but now I am settled in a flat I’m planning on getting a bit more organised a putting some time aside to get back into working on some android and online projects.

After a few visits I’ve joined the London Hackspace So going to make some time to go there especially to play with  a few hardware ideas i want to work on.

Anyway its late, time for sleep.