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Showing posts from March, 2019

YOU MAKE ME FEEL BRAND NEW [159]

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Ever had a computer blow up in your lap? Over a year ago, I bought a BBC Micro computer, my existing one having stopped working. Connecting it up, a milky white picture slowly appeared on screen, with a “Ready” prompt. Before I could write 10 PRINT “HELLO”, there was the sound of firecrackers, as the capacitors in the power supply let go: instead of temporarily storing electricity, the electrolytic material in the capacitors burned up, unleashing an awful smell that was only cleared by opening up all the doors and windows in the house. I have not tried to buy another BBC Micro since, as the price of the remaining working examples increase over time - the time and effort to replace failing parts is beyond both my resources and patience. You can emulate this computer, and many older 8-bit and 16-bit computers, through software, which somewhat reproduces the original experience – this is also what runs the current spate of mini game consoles, replicating the Nintendo NES and SNE

JUST TRYING TO KEEP MY CUSTOMERS SATISFIED [158]

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I realise I could have written about the demise of British record and video store HMV at any time: when it fell into administration last Christmas, or in 2013, when the rise of online film and music streaming threatened its business model, when record label EMI floated it on the stock market in 2002, and when shops like HMV collapsed – Virgin Megastore, Tower Records, MVC and Woolworths. I love to visit these places to discover something that could spark your thoughts, or change the way you think, and take your own personal copy of it home to own forever - to know this experience is now too expensive to support is, well, rather crushing. The nearest branch of HMV to me is closing next weekend: from next month, if I want to look in a music shop of any type, I will need to catch a train, not just a bus, to a shopping centre three or four towns away, where the cost of renting a store must be cheaper. Cutting rent costs have already closed a dozen stores, leaving around a hundred –

AND WE KNOW, WE AIN’T SLOW, WE’RE THE AVENGERS [157]

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“Look — (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) — But There Were These Two Fellers...” Turning on my television, one Sunday morning, I found an unfeasibly young-looking John Cleese, wearing a bow tie, trying to prevent a woman from entering a room containing shelves filled with eggs, on which were painted clown faces, as a mark of copyright. (There is a real Clown Egg Register, but they moved to using ceramic eggs in the 1980s.) Later, I saw a group of henchmen taking orders from Punch & Judy puppets, before killing their targets using slapstick, and also a comedy writer, played by Bernard Cribbins, wildly spouting one-liners before he is killed, in a room filled with scrunched-up pieces of paper, filled with aborted attempts at writing a joke. Yes, I also thought “The Avengers” – the “actual” “Avengers,” not the Marvel Comics one - was supposed to be about espionage, but this episode, using the long title above, came during the show’s sixth and last season in 1968-69,

FIVE, SIX, SEVEN EIGHT NINE TEN, I LOVE YOU [156]

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One Florin: One Tenth of a Pound (1849) The main reason most people still require mathematics is when they deal with money, and hearing people express dismay about what were, at the time, massive changes to how they needed their minds to work, is rather odd indeed. I have now listened twice to a radio documentary titled “Decimal Day - What’s That in Old Money?” Broadcast by the BBC as part of the “Archive on 4” strand, it takes a brisk walk through the process that replaced the old Pound Sterling – the one counted in shillings and pence – with a new decimal currency, climaxing on 15 th February 1971. Amongst all the talk of what the new money should be called, and how attached people were to the old sixpence coin, I took from it the concern that people were having to change the way they counted. Used in Britain since the 8 th century, one pound was divided a very large number of ways: twenty shillings made a pound, and twelve pence (still using the Roman “d” for denar

WITH YOU I CAN RUN FOREVER [155]

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The three VHS cassettes most prominent among my childhood were of the films “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”, and “Animalympics” – our family really had some taste. "Animalympics" re-entered my mind after the 2012 Olympic Games, after coming across sections of it on YouTube, and its images ingrained themselves further in my mind than I realised. Released in 1980, it is seldom seen today – it only saw a DVD release in the United States in 2018 - but the story behind the film makes me lucky to have seen it all. “Animalympics” began as a satire of the Olympic Games using exaggerated cartoon characters, in the tradition of the parodies made in Warner Bros. cartoons of old, but also in line with big sports shows like ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and the BBC’s “Grandstand”. Stephen Lisberger, the director who conceived the idea, and whose studio was busy making TV advertisements and short children’s films, secured a grant from the American Film Ins

I WENT DOWN TO THE CHELSEA DRUGSTORE [154]

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You can discover historical landmarks in London, but you can trip over them just as easily. I have travelled to London many times, and have eaten lunch there just as many times. By chance, I have discovered that some of the restaurant I visited, with the single-minded purpose of satisfying my hunger, held much more significance than their current use suggested at the time. Here is a list of those whose history I know, so far. 1. 84 Charing Cross Road, West End WC2H 0BA This location is found between Soho and Covent Garden, but is just as easily found in a book, on a stage, or on a screen. Charing Cross Road area used to be the main base for antiquarian booksellers, including the Marks & Co bookshop. Its chief buyer, Frank Doel, received an enquiry from Helene Hanff, unable to find some obscure books and British literature in her home city of New York. A long-distance friendship developed through their correspondence, later collected by Hanff into the book “84 Char

CAUSE YOU RIDE ON TIME, RIDE ON TIME [153]

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My perfect watch is the one I wear right now: a Casio G-Shock, an all-black version of the original 1983 design, with no decals that can scratch off, as much of a reason for buying it as its ability to survive a multi-storey drop. I could never wear a Rolex or Patek Philippe watch for fear of breaking it, although if I could actually afford one, I might be more relaxed about it. Even then, my Casio has a distinct advantage over the most expensive of watches: it will always give me the right time, because it does not rely on me to set it. The question I asked myself is why I would insist on having a radio-controlled watch, and my first answer was itself a question: if you can have one, why would you not? For all the precious metals, delicate mechanisms, or ability to act as a status symbol, a watch that does not tell the right time is not an effective watch. Having to set the time yourself introduces the possibility that the time will always be wrong, no matter how accurately the