Category Archives: Geek Culture

Twitter – A School Playground



Twitter LogoTwitter has always come in for criticism over the inanity of some messages; people describing what they’re having for breakfast or other mundane activities that are of no interest except to their own ego. However, the Internet and Twitter will always reflect the composition of the real world so it’s irrational to expect every tweet to be worthy of the Poet Laureate.

Despite this, the level of tweet erudition at times fails to rise above the level of the school playground. Take the traditional childhood mantra of last resort – “My dad is bigger than your dad.” Transferring this to Twitter, Piers Morgan and Sir Alan Sugar frequently go back and forth regarding the viewing figures for their respective television shows. It’s as if neither of them have quite grown up. Not only is it childish, it does them a disservice for both have considerable achievements.

At times I wonder if it really is the personalities tweeting or whether it is an extension of their entertainment persona into the on-line world. Regrettably, I have to conclude that they are who they purport to be and there is no redeeming reason for their behaviour. Lest it be taken that I’m singling these two out, I’m not. Any seasoned Twitterer will recognise these behaviours in celebrities and it seems that their carefully managed stage act is left behind once the real person gets hold of a Twitter account.

Perhaps I’m just not a big enough celebrity-watcher. I don’t read Hello or any of these weekly fame-orientated magazines. I follow people, whether famous or otherwise, because we have a shared interest. Whether it’s entrepreneurship, technology, motorsport, music or literature, doesn’t matter; I’m not following you because you are simply a celebrity.

So it is with regret…@Lord_Sugar – unfollow….@piersmorgan – unfollow.

And if anyone wants to follow me, I’m @andrewhpalmer. I guarantee the egocentric tweets will be few and far between.


Thanks Steve



Most people in the UK were tucked up in bed when the sad news of Steve Jobs’ death was released, but I was still up, getting a few chores done while the house was quiet. It was kind of strange as I wanted to pass on the news and talk about Steve and Apple but everyone I knew was asleep. For a moment, for all the social networks, for all the tweets, it was just me and my thoughts, sitting at my desk, alone.

The Steve Jobs and Apple I will always remember is not the consumerism of the iWorld but the part they played in the 80s and in particular, the Apple ][. My father had an engineering business and I remember him buying the Apple from a dealer about 50 miles away – you couldn’t just pop into PC World in those days. The beige unit, the twin 5.25″ floppies, the green screen monitor.

Photography courtesy of Rama & Musée Bolo

On weekends and on holidays he would bring the computer home for me and my brother to play games on. I remember playing a breakout game for hours on the computer – I think there were only three levels and the last was blindly fast. Later, I started programming the Apple ][ and from that point a career in technology beckoned.

I even had a black Apple-branded sports bag that I used as a school bag. It had Apple patches at each end and for some reason, when the bag was worn out, I took them off the bag and kept them. I really was a geek even then.

I’m not good with famous people so it’s probably for the best that we never met. The last celebrity I met was a Pop Idol / X Factor winner and I totally dissed him by not knowing who he was (sorry).

Regardless, I’d like to say thank you, Steve, especially for the Apple ][ and the journey it started for me. Requiescat in pace.


Erasure’s Tomorrow’s World



To preview their forthcoming album, Tomorrow’s World, pop duo Erasure have produced a tribute to the future-gazing BBC TV show of the same name. British geeks of a certain age will fondly remember this TV programme for introducing us to gadgets such as Walkmans, CDs and camcorders. It was also notorious for showing off products that promptly disappeared and never made it to market. The programme ran from 1965 to 2003 and drew over 10 million viewers at its peak.

Erasure’s tribute is a reworking of the programme’s soundtrack and has an accompanying video that includes many famous gadgets from the past. Here it is.


The Names Now Forgotten



Picture by David Gerard

I’m packing up an old laptop to give away to a friend and checking through the bag to ensure that all the parts are there. As I do, a handful of PCMCIA cards fall out, all with names, products and technical details that are now part of history. A Xircom 10/100  Base TX Fast Ethernet adaptor. A US Robotics Sportster V32/V34 bis modem card. A 256 MB CompactFlash Card in CF-to-PCMCIA Type 1 adaper. A generic 11b wireless card.

Even the term PCMCIA has been relegated to history, first by being renamed as PC Card and then by being superseded by ExpressCard. But what happened to Xircom and US Robotics? The former was bought by Intel in 2001 though products were sold under the Xircom brand until 2005. USRobotics merged with 3Com in 1997 before being spun out again in 2000. It was later acquired by a private equity firm in 2005 and it’s still in existence, focusing entirely on modems.

So many companies and products have fallen by the wayside; Ad Lib sound cards; 3dfx graphics card; Hayes modems; Conner hard drives; Handspring PDAs. The list is long and illustrious. Some merged, some were bought out, some failed to compete and died. Others are still with us and it’s market forces and competition in action. Technology changes too and hot products become obsolete. Internal modems are no longer needed as we’ve all got ADSL and cable broadband wireless routers.

As I look round my office, I wonder how many of the names and products I currently see will still be here in 10 years’ time? Samsung…Dell…HP…Yamaha…Sony…Plantronics…Toshiba…Sun (already part of Oracle)…Logitech…Microsoft…AMD…Maxtor (now Seagate as well). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


Legends are Reborn: HP-12C and HP-15C Calculators



To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the HP-12C financial calculator, HP are producing a limited edition of this classic calculator along with a reproduction of the 15C scientific calculator. Launched in 1981, the 12C became the de facto “badge of honour” for any self respecting businessman. Still a cult classic with fans the world over, it’s the longest selling HP product.

There’s some great reminiscing going on over at HP’s The Next Bench, including interviews with 12C’s creator, Dennis, who demoed the calculator to Bill Hewlett thirty years ago.

Pictures from the HP Museum by David Hicks.

Young’uns raised on Casio and Sharp calculators will be surprised that these use Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) for the entry of formulae, rather than the more usual “1 + 1 =” approach. RPN would say this is “1 ENTER 1 +”, if I recall right.

I remember my father having HP calculators – they had little red LED displays before LCDs appeared – and him showing me how RPN worked. And the way the buttons kind of rocked back rather than simply pressing down. Glorious and I want one. I shall have to keep my eyes on the HP’s UK site – the standard 12c is available but I’d be more interested in the 15C which hasn’t been around for years.

It’s good to see that HP can produce something that lasts longer that the TouchPad.


Scientists Need To Stand Up



If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the whole of science, I’d like to think that us geeks fit in there as a subset. Many of us come from a scientific background and appreciate science, scientific method and the benefits it brings to humanity. This isn’t to say that we don’t value art, but rather we have critical approach to life that uses evidence and method rather than doubt and misinformation. Theories aren’t always right but we value the outcome when they are disproved.

Regrettably science and scientists have often failed to engage with public, either retreating into academia or else becoming the boffins in the backrooms of organisations that capitalise on their work. The Internet has given plenty of space for pseudo-science to become widespread and thought of as fact. Validated research and evidence rarely gets the weight it deserves.

The New Statesman has published an excellent article on how the scientific community needs to take a look and learn from other social groups such as gays and blacks which have managed to get the respect that they deserve. Scientists need to stand up and speak out against pseudo-science and misinformation.

The UK’s Government Chief  Scientific Adviser John Beddington said, “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not – and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this – grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.