Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 13/10/2003Computers don't always thrive in the real world, as a story about peculiar data destruction shows. Now we have computers small enough to leave in trouser pockets, I expect a big increase in laundry-related data loss incidents and "The dog ate my PDA!

Monday 13/10/2003
Computers don't always thrive in the real world, as a story about peculiar data destruction shows. Now we have computers small enough to leave in trouser pockets, I expect a big increase in laundry-related data loss incidents and "The dog ate my PDA!" Although with wireless, it should be possible to extract one's documents from inside Fido -- thus giving the lie to Groucho Marx's saying that "Outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read."

My favourite dead computer belonged to Sinclair Research, a company responsible for many hundreds of thousands of the things in its time. The main R&D labs lived in a place called Milton Hall, just outside Cambridge, which was perched on top of the only hill for miles around. Very flat, Cambridgeshire: the hill was thus oversubscribed by local utilities and other radioactive bods, who took advantage of the slight height advantage to plunk down a large radio mast festooned with aerials.

The other notable subscriber to the hill was the weather. While Cambridge is not the most heavily storm-infested place in the country, it has its fair share of thunder and lightning. Lightning has a distinct fondness for high places, especially those with something nice and conductive down which it can run its high voltage fingers. Milton Hall wasn't just the best option for those lonesome electrons, it was the only option. With crackling regularity it gathered in the volts, dispersing them to ground with mighty pulses of current.

Alas for the Sinclairites, those were the days when the world ran on minicomputers -- connected to the desks of the working stiffs via hundreds of yards of RS232 cable. Or, as a physicist might like to think of them, antennas. One good slug of Thor's Finest down the tower outside, and hundreds of volts magically appeared on the wires. Back in the machine room, the terminal interface cards had barely time to gasp "Parity Error!" as thundering electronic death welcomed them to Vaxen Valhalla. The system manager got on the blower to Digital, while we dispersed through the rain and wind to the nearest safe place or refuge to calm our nerves in time-honoured liquid fashion.

Wireless networking is all well and good, but there are some things it can never fully emulate.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All