The Photon Connection

Poster for The Photon Connection
Poster for The Photon Connection, the 1982/83 IEE Faraday Lecture presented by STC.

In 1982-83 Standard Telephones and Cables Plc (STC) marked the start of its centenary celebrations (1883-1983) by presenting the annual IEE Faraday Lecture.

The IEE Faraday Lecture was founded in 1924 to commemorate the life and work of Michael Faraday. As a pioneer in the field of electricity and electromagnetism, his work laid the foundation for many of today’s advances in technology.

At the time my father worked for Exacta Circuits Ltd in Selkirk, which was owned by STC. Dad was one of only eight people selected to present the lecture. Other lecturers included Sir Kenneth Corfield and David Brown (now Sir David and chairman of Motorola). It was a real priviledge for Dad to present it.

Dad presented the first lecture at the Usher Hall, here in Edinburgh on 5 October 1982. I got special permission to miss school to travel up from Selkirk to be there in the audience — mostly school pupils and students — for the matinee performance. I loved it and got to go backstage afterwards, meet the crew and I even got a few souveniers, which I still have. I later made the set in Lego — that’s just how good I rated it — which Dad photographed (using the Kodak-equivalent of a Polaroid camera) and showed it to his fellow lecturers and the backstage crew.

When Dad died there were two things that I wanted of his: a copy his signature (something so personal and unique to him) and his copy of the Faraday lecture that he presented: The Photon Connection. I got both, and I have his autograph bluetacked to my PC monitor right here.

The lecture was about light. It was about how optical communications (optical fibres) would change the way that we communicate, locally and globally. This evening I read it through again — the first time I’ve read through it for about ten years — and it struck me as incredibly far-thinking for a piece of work from 1982.

This is from the conclusion to the lecture:

Photons, not electrons, will connect us. When we master these techniques we shall have a resource limited only by our own imagination. And our imagination is already at work.

We know that we shall not just talk on the phone, but talk and see each other, too. Send pictures.

… Send data as far and as fast as we wish. Run dangerous processes from a safe distance.

We’ll shop from home if we like. Order our goods. Pay for them. Book our holiday. Or an evening out. Check our balance in the bank! Vote on vital issues. Receive our newspapers electronically. And our mail. We’ll work, perhaps, from home. We shall have as many television channels as there are human interests.

The disadvantages of distance will diminish. And those of time. We will communicate anything to anyone, anywhere. With all the speed of light.

The World Wide Web wasn’t invented until about 1989, while the Internet had been around for quite a while.

And today we have all of these things. I take some pride that in a small way my Dad was part of bringing this about, and part of spreading the news. He was certainly influential in nurturing my interest in computers, in communications, in information architecture.

If you’d like to read the lecture for yourself, you can download it in PDF format, for which you will require a PDF Reader program such as the free Adobe Reader.

Throat infection?

I have no idea if this is a healthy-looking ECG reading. To be honest, I’m not even sure if it is an “ECG reading”. It was one of the few medical-related images I have in my extensive clipart arsenal.

I’m now beginning to worry that I’m not going to be well enough to conduct the services at Christmas — the first of which is less than 48 hours away. On top of the post-viral dizziness I now appear to have a raging thoat infection. The glands in my throat appear to be the size of torpedoes, armed and dangerous. And I’m sure I have a temperature.

I’ve spent the last few hours in bed, to which I shall again retire. This isn’t fun. Please pray for my health.

Maybe I could just mime the Christmas story as my sermon on Saturday night …

Why I blog

A small USB keyboard

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about why I blog for ages, since I read Kelvin Holdsworth‘s post entitled How to Blog on October 12.

While my earliest blog entry here is dated Monday, June 9th, 2003, looking back through archived copies of my website I discovered that what I could consider my first ‘blog’ entry was on the “news” section of my website and dated Tuesday, 03 July 2001.

Although that wasn’t actually my first. In those days I deleted previous posts and kept the news page up-to-date and fast-loading (these were the days before broadband, remember). I’d been posting news items on it since at least early 2001. Tuesday, 03 July 2001’s post was simply my last surviving post before I re-wrote my website. Here’s what I had to say:

Well summer is here — supposedly. It is raining today. Looking forward to a fortnight’s holiday, though we won’t be going anywhere as Jane’s holiday time was cancelled by her work at the last minute. 🙁 We are looking to take a week’s break with friends at the end of August.

At the end of February we took a week’s break at the Santana Hotel in Malta. Seven days of sun (a bit of rain), and temperatures around 16° C. We’ll publish our photos when we get them back from the chemist. [We didn’t have a digital camera then.]

Jane is still working as a Care Worker at Beechwood House (a Church of Scotland Alcohol Rehabilitation Unit) here in Inverness. She is also studying for a diploma in Alcohol and Drug Studies from the University of Paisley. This is a distance-learning course over the internet.

Gareth: I am working as a priest within the congregation of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Inverness, and have been “serving my title” here since August 1999.

This last year we were involved with the x-stream youth event run by Youth For Christ (YFC) and am heading-up the worship band.

I blogged before it was called “blogging”; in those days it was just news. I blogged then because we lived far from friends and family and it was nice to be able to keep them up to date with our goings on. I suppose it’s much the same these days, but the internet has grown so much since, and grown faster, and the conversation can now be two-way via blog comments. I love that you can comment on people’s blogs — I love that people comment on mine.

I blog because I love writing. I blog because I love writing about stuff that I find exciting, because I love writing stuff that makes me laugh. I blog about some stuff, like the fertility stuff because I reckon if we’re having to go through that just now then there are hundreds more people going through it too and I want to support them and also break down barriers and explain to those who don’t know about how it feels. I blog because some of the things I write about (like geeky tips) might help others — I’ve found help on other people’s websites and blogs, I’m continuing the tradition.

There are two tips on Kelvin’s article How to Blog that have stuck in my head these last couple of months since reading it:

  • Remember, people believe you.
  • Blogging is performance, not real life. (But no-one who reads it remembers that).

I go through phases of how much courage I have to post about personal stuff because of the feedback I’ve had from some posts I’ve made. (My posts usually focus on technology, or music, or anything™ during those periods.)

Because this year, more than any previous, I’ve had quite a bit of what can only be described as “hate mail” about posts I’ve made; some emails and one real letter. Some really quite upsetting. One person who was upset with something that I’d written told me that I was a horrible person, ill-suited to church work and it came as no surprise to them to learn that I was having difficulty securing a permanent post.

My father-in-law, a Church of Scotland clergyman, was speaking with someone who said “Do you know, there’s a clergyman in Scotland somewhere who is blogging about fertility!”
“Really?!” said F-i-L, “I wonder who that could be?”

I’m often surprised — but often also delighted — by the number of church-related people who say that they’ve read my blog: bishops, deans, other priests and deacons, members of congregations, or that they were having a conversation with someone about my blog. I was delighted when Bishop David became the first blogging bishop of the SEC.

Remember, people believe you!

I was reading recently about how the internet has blown apart the marketplace. In the ye olde days before the Web the marketplace was dominated by companies who were the experts in their fields. If you wanted something, you went to them for information and advice. They advised you and you bought their product. But these days, in this information age, the marketplace is so incredibly networked that the consumers now often know more about the marketplace and the products than the manufacturers.

An example: I like the look of the Vox AD50VT guitar amp. Years ago I would have gone to my local music store and asked their advice. I may even have seen a review in a guitar magazine.

These days, however, I can read people’s reviews of this amp at Harmony Central, I can download the user-manual from the Vox website, I can post a question on the alt.guitar.amps newsgroup (as I did, and I got 15 replies).

So that I can now step through the doors at the local Guitar store with the facts and figures at my finger-tips. I can check out the actual product knowing that Dave in Texas had problems with a dodgy input jack socket, or that Richard in London has been gigging this amp wonderfully for months and the only problem he’s had is that the DI Line Out is rubbish, it bypasses the valve anyway, and that it sounds best mic’ed-up.

In this culture of broken social relationships with automated telephone helplines, and visits to Tesco without having to speak to a single person, people trust people more than people trust companies these days. There is something healthy in there somewhere. Rather than alienating people, the internet daily brings together millions of people. And that we’re still talking and listening to one another is to be praised. There is hope for us, still.

There is power in blogging, but then hasn’t the pen always been mightier than the sword?

Buy the JCB Song single!

JCB Song website
Not only is it a lovely song and it has an inspiring video, but the website is cool too, you can even pick up the pencil and scribble on the jotter!

I’m so pleased that the JCB Song by Nizlopi got to number one. I first heard it back in August when James Frost blogged about it. I downloaded the video when you still could — it was a whopping 25MB — I don’t think it’s available for download now, but I think you do get it on the CD single.

It’s the kind of song that makes you want to cry. Well, it makes me want to cry … and I did. It reminds me of precious afternoons with my dad before he had his brain haemorrhages in 1983; I was eleven.

Just me and my dad. Like when we were sitting on the butcher’s window-ledge in the High Street in Selkirk, one Saturday evening, eating chips and throwing a few to the seagulls. Or the evening we spent making a ‘farting machine’ out of just an old coat hanger, a handful of elastic bands and a washer.

I’ve just gone and spoiled the mood now, haven’t I.

Still, it’s nearly Christmas — our eighth without Dad. He died on the night of Sunday 04 January 1998, and I miss him. And that lovely JCB Song reminds me of him.

So buy it! and keep it at #1 for another week. If not for me, if not for my Dad, then to keep Shame Whatshisface, the winner of Ex-Factory, off the top slot.