Monthly Archives: October 2015

Time travel by phone

imageJust rang my iPhone using this. Probably taken out the local BT network but it worked with one 9v battery, some crocodile clips, two Bakelite phones, one to dial, one to connect to, and an old Marconi line tester – the call to the connection effected by  several turns of a magneto handle,  (remember not to have hand in box when turning handle – the shock from a magneto is surprising invigorating)  the call to the BT exchange effected using a 1930’s GPO model 232 and a significant amount of trial and error as to which wire went where. Unbelievably exciting – I feel like Dr Who. Now to photograph it properly so I don’t forget how I did it, then instruct Maria to put on her best 1930’s telefonist voice and see what happens if I ring in and get transferred. The only limitation is that a transferred call is transferred from the phone at one end of my desk to the phone at the other, but you get the idea. Grandchildren need urgently to come an play telephones with me. Feel a bit of a plonker ringing myself and transferring to myself and Maria not quite as excited as me.

Most splendiferous time with my younger sister and her husband – more visits please.

Feels like a big day

I have for some reason been feeling particularly well for the last three days. Just like I was a few years ago. Quite energetic, not floaty, comfortable, ready. I think the painkillers have finally withdrawn from the field. I thank them for their service from the bottom of my heart. I intend to build a small altar and make daily offerings to the power and majesty of the blessed god Gabapentin and to the lesser god Tramadol.

Those of you who follow the sensationalist, irresponsible health news will know that processed meat gives you cancer <FACT>. Well there’s a thing, most of my Italian relatives live beyond 90 on a diet heavy in salami, mortadella, and Italian sausage. Maria and I had to laugh when Radio 4 indulged the scaremongering by listing the other things that can give you cancer. Apart from the obvious horse having bolted irony of it all, the pronouncement also included warnings for those that use paint and those that have coal fires as well as the usual suspects – smoking and asbestos. I jest not – at that very moment Maria was painting the bathroom, we had just enjoyed a ham sandwich and had lit the wood burner. I should have been smoking an asbestos pipe to clinch it. A triple whammy. I guess we are lucky to survive the night.

I have finished ‘Marge’ more or less to my satisfaction. It needs, what we theatre designer lovies call, set dressing and sprucing up, but otherwise, it’s done.

To my surprise the programming was easy. I had never used MAX/MSP seriously before and the adaptation to a signal flow way of thinking flumuxed me at first but once I stopped trying to find ways of compressing everything into a series of nested if statements and started just joining virtual wires in ugly loops and gates it has worked like a dream. Looks like spaghetti but who cares. It runs unattended and any errors are likely to arise as the result of faulty hardware contacts, leaves on the line, chilly nights, cats, rats etc.

“Marge” has been like a mini, and much more fun PhD (sorry Alistair). I have been completely obsessed – out in my dressing gown with a torch at 4 am (is a minor example), I have read the relevant bits of a 1937 tome on telephony, ((Atkinson – the standard textbook for GPO trainee engineers) – Roger may have memorised the revised edition in the 60’s when he was 4)) and I have spent hours meticulously building switch boxes and sensors from scraps of Bakelite and Evostick (the only glue to bother with – forget superglue, you have to get it under the counter at B&Q cos it’s so good for sniffing, another bonus ). I have concluded that IP cameras are hateful, belligerent, temperamental bits of diva kit that will never work reliably despite have the signal strength of Jodrell Bank pointed at them. ( I can now pick up our broadband connection at the bottom of the street, meanwhile the stupid webcam feigns weak signal strength like a diving Italian football player. I have resorted to a free Baby Monitor app and an old drum mic. Someone good at all this would have taken about a month, as I am crap at it and thus it has taken six. The lie downs and TV box sets have slowed things down as well, but to be frank my satisfaction at this stage knows no bounds. On to the really fun bit.

Meanwhile as a by product of my telephonic obsession I now own a 1940’s dolls eye switchboard acquired for 50 quid less a few swappsies.

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This magnificent machine is barely liftable (well I don’t dare) but most remarkably it seems to work. I doubt it has been powered up since 1940 and yet yesterday evening I figured out the Na meant a sodium battery and connected it to 12 volts. The dolls eyes rolled hysterically for a second or two the buzzer buzzed and like the Golem it came to life. I shouted with joy. It had survived a disasterous postal adventure which split it in two places and dislodged some of the internal components including a curious amount of black tar to hold the buzzer in place. Old tech has the mark of human endeavour all over it and consequently restoring it feels like reviving it and is very satisfying.

As a consequence of my return to a more healthy status I am hoping to return to work more fully and actually travel onto campus from time to time. The details have yet to be resolved so we will see what the university wants me to do.

All in all it is a big day.

Love to all.

A probing – Part 2 – 2 Days late and over 2 Days

I am now at the hospital waiting.

It’s 18 months or so since was first diagnosed and I feel pretty at home with this whole process. I was saying to Maria that sometimes I missed the feeling of feeling really, really well. But the truth is at 58 I think one is fairly lucky not to feel really, really ill. Everyone I know has aches and pains, allergies, viruses, worries, addictions or whatnot.

I often do my blogging while waiting here. It’s more absorbing than reading and can be interrupted with no great loss to continuity. The vibe in here is nearly always positive. A few of the newbies are clearly nervous and those unlucky enough to have bad reactions to chemo are not exactly chipper but most of us are pretty jolly. It can’t be that we are all on uppers although maybe we are. I still cannot understand anyone who does not make full use of all the wonderful drugs you are offered. From pain, through sickness, anxiety, depression, low energy, hyperness, every remedy is on offer and all for free. So much better to be a drug addict than in pain, sad or unchipper.

Wei, a nurse, has had a really great experience with one of those therapies where you get rocks put on you but you are not touched. Energies or something. As she, along with all the other nurses, were extremely sceptical, and she is a very sensible, intelligent person I must admit I am tempted to have a go. Apparently the cancer care extra services need to be supported otherwise they get cut – so I just might do something that I firmly believe to be utter baloney – mainly because I like and respect Wei but also I don’t want to see the daft, spiritual la di da cut, just because I (and apparently all the doctors who were dragged to the demonstration) am a sour cynic.

As I was saying I am not a big reader unlike everyone else in my family. A standing joke in the family is that the only novel I ever read was ‘Bom the Little Drummer’ by Enid Blyton. Since being ill I have read a lot more but still see it as a bit of a chore compared to TV, sleeping or gluing…

Two days later – oops forgot to finish this blog. Interrupted by treatment.

Had a fine old time at hospital. My haemoglobin levels are deteriorating very slowly so hopefully it will be a long time before I need another dose of poison. As another dose is inevitable I take this as great news. Fingers crossed on that, as it’s entirely unpredictable. And can suddenly accelerate. I asked my consultant if there was anything I can do to to help, to which he answered emphatically no. I really like this answer. So much better than all that bullshit about a positive attitude or take milk of a pregnant ass on a windless night facing east.

Nurse Richard looked after me this time. He is so nice. He is being promoted to a Haematology specialist nurse with a special interest in myeloma so I am delighted for him and for me. I told him he should find a cure and fast. So he’s going to do that. He also provided me some very simple advice I had had before but forgotten. Drink more water. Partly cos it fills your veins so makes the needle probing easier – it hurts a bit these days – and partly cos it flushes your kidneys which for myeloma is very important. So I tried this yesterday and do you know I felt amazing all day. Drank about 2 litres of liquid over the day including tea and coffee. Conclusion – It’s perfectly possible that my obsessive nature that causes me to forget to eat and drink when my head is down in a project, is not good for me. The only obvious side effect is pissing all night long but who cares about that. Today I have already had more energy than normal and feel great. So I have found something to believe in, at least for now. Drinking.

The phone box progressed at a phenomenal rate compared to some days and has just one last sensor issue to be resolved. As some of you may one day experience it ‘live’, so to speak I will give nothing more away, suffice to say I am now really just a day or two away from putting the physical/technical side of the box aside and moving onto the cerebral/technical. I know I have said that before but this time I think it’s going to happen. Btw the webcam issue was unresolveable – the camera I bought was just too cheap to do exactly what I wanted, so the only way to view the inside of the box online is to use the username and password I distributed (didn’t I?). No great loss. Red window bars and a rusty incinerator. The view from the outside seems to work fine. At night it’s fun to watch spidey spinning her web across the lens.

The hens no longer feature so strongly in my life partly because they are almost entirely cut off from us by a ‘verdant darkling’ undergrowth plague. (Observe as I rekindle my poetic chops) All other wildlife seems to be outside the house for now so that’s good, but I kind of miss ratty and his or her intrepidness. A spaniel with a pink sparkly collar popped into the house yesterday morning. I was delighted and he seemed set to stay. His owner seemed unperturbed indeed moments later a very overweight Labrador joined us. Bobby our tabby was more surprised than scared. Perhaps the pink sparkly collar and the near coronary flab took the edge of the threat.

Maria is doing the great tomato bottling ceremony for her mum. The smell is divine. She is making excellent progress as director of Dido and Aeneas. We came up with a very snappy poster for her concept. Whose clever enough to spot the musicological pun/reference? Clue: Maria has transposed the action to a modern day TV experience.

Bored writing now.


A probing from John

Monthly review at the hospital plus 30 minute of intravenous bone nourishing goodness. I am always somewhat adrift when it is in the middle of day. I need to be nice and clean for John, my nurse who gave me such a bollocking last week for driving under the influence of painkillers. So plenty of bathing and shaving. I told Maria I was shaving my legs for him but she didn’t get the joke and called me a numpty. I am looking forward to showing of the degree to which my class A dosage is down. I can manage on none but the nights are a struggle cos everything seizes up so I have to be weak at around 11pm. Still a big improvement.

I have driven a few short distances. To be honest I’m still not entirely happy. I don’t know whether it’s in my head, my new glasses or indeed whether these drugs have a sort of half life and take some time to completely decay. I cannot really describe the experience but things like reversing out of a carpark really tax my brain. I have to crawl so slowly it’s embarrassing and very uncool for a virile male like me.

So long since I have been outraged, what has happened. Ah yes, the phone box obsession.

Here’s an outrage.

The Tory smugness is driving me mad. Let’s be clear what they mean – the only people they care about are hard-working (whatever that means – nothing!), property owning, aspirational, do-gooding, family making – tosspots! Who wants to have anything to do with that sort of person. This country is drowning in them – send them back to where they belong I say, in Volvo wheeled, Barrett boxed, ‘my child is doing after-school-D-of E-poor people-caring-classes, French chalky Teal – container ships bound for somewhere bijou in Normandy. Grr. As I have said many times being a hard-working member of the mediocrity is a crime against the human spirit not a virtue. Long live Teresa May, at least she sings the Tory theme song at full voice and shoots herself in the foot at the same time. They are not all evil dudes nor is every socialist a nice dude but the essential message of conservatism (let’s forget the conservatives for a moment) is always one of conformity. It celebrates enterprise only if that enterprise is targeted at reinforcing some version of the status quo. I suppose the horrifying thing is that that’s what most people want – especially me.

Forgive me if I am repeating myself but when will I learn a basic rule of fixing technology. I spent several days trying to fix a MIDI communication problem between the phone box and the house. The signal kept coming and going. Needless to say I worked on all the hard things first. Laboriously tracing data paths and drivers and everything dense and tricky that I KNEW would be causing the problem. What I discovered 3 days later was that every one of my terminals (miniature binding posts) had been made inaccurately and a tiny sliver of plastic was interrupting the signal periodically. A few strokes of a nail file later and problem solved. THREE DAYS THOUGH? Rule: check – is it plugged in, switched on, is the battery flat is the cat sitting on something important, before reaching for a screwdriver or tinkering with the code, or as all Microsoft users will know, the dreaded, downloading a new driver.

So I have passed some time. I can complete my make-up routine and prepare myself for a probing from John. I was listening to Julian Clarey yesterday. So funny.