Bunker bulldust day 48

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Gunung Agung, Bali 2015. It’s OK, it’s not erupting.  © PJ Croft 2020

Ooops, missed a couple of days, but no problems. No virus here. I had a nice phone conversation with a friend this afternoon and she wants me to help her (well, we’re doing each other favours). It was nice to be able to say, “C’mon up, and Geoff too”, meaning the two of them should come. It’s allowed now. She’s also very vulnerable, having had serious heart trouble a year or two ago.

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Y’know, the more I read and see of New Zealand, the more impressed I am. They do everything so well. They’ve dealt with this corona-virus in exemplary fashion and are admired around the world for it. Jacinda Ardern is the tops.

I remember decades ago in the late 60s, I used to see shorts before the main movie, at the “flicks”, made by the New Zealand Film Unit and I was always so impressed even then. They were interesting and very well scripted and shot. Totally professional. Noticeably so.

Then there’s the Lord of the Ring series of movies made by Peter Jackson. They were not just good, they were, and still are, absolutely outstanding, setting new standards in special effects and computer graphics. There have been many times over the years when I’ve thought, “Yeah, this is good. I’m impressed.” It’s the Scots. NZ was always a destination for Scottish people, no doubt due to the similarity of the countryside and terrain. Scots are tops.

To be honest, I have the itch to move there, but it’s cold. I have a Kiwi mate and he lives here because he can’t stand the NZ cold. Mind you, he came from Dunny, Dunedin right down past Christchurch on the south island. It’s bound to be cold down there. I think it’s a bit late for me.

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There’s not much new, except that I’m making good progress on my Channel 7 memoir for the TVW Book Project. It had been in abeyance for a few weeks due to the lockdown, although that didn’t really stop me, I was just preoccupied for a while, but I’m back into it and nearly finished it today. I’ve written about 18 A4 pages and around 10,000 words. It’s hardly a novel but it’s a lot more than the 2,000 words limit set by the organiser. Sorry Ron, but I’m not going to compress things down just for an arbitrary number to suit you.

I’m at the stage now where I’m going back over what I’ve written, editing, adding, shifting, correcting and especially, adding more names and my memories of the people. Luckily I have a complete listing of all the people who worked at TVW over the years, more than 800 names, so as long as I have one part I can find the other.

The next step will be to lay it out in a proper word processor, NOT Microsoft Word! Lotus Word Pro is my choice. But I’ll actually use a desktop publishing program which is specifically designed to flow text around pictures with added frames and any other graphic elements you want. Then it outputs it to a print-ready PDF file. That will be my final output. I’ll post some screen shots here soon.

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Exactly : How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World - Simon Winchester

I’m nearing the end of the book I mentioned last week, Exactly, by Simon Winchester. I was critical of it last week, calling it jingoistic and posh, but as it’s progressed it’s getting better. He’s covered the Hubble Space Telescope and how a tiny error in the making of the mirror led to blurry pictures and nearly meant disaster, and how it was fixed. There’s much more detail about it than I’ve read before.

Then it goes on to GPS navigation in detail and at the moment he’s detailing the LIGO interferometer for detecting and measuring gravitational waves.

But the thing that’s really got me going is his description of how transistors and semiconductors were developed, with their profound effect on the world. Mostly for good, I think.

The point is that the timeline of semiconductors and integrated circuits aligns with my life and work in the electronics field as well. The transistor was invented in 1947, the same year I was born. The first integrated circuits started in 1966, the year I started at Channel 7 (it was all valves when I first started there). The first microprocessor came along soon afterwards. I can clearly remember quite excited talk about the Zilog Z80 in about 1968 or ’69 when I was doing first year electronics at W.A.I.T. (the WA Institute of Technology at Bentley). It only cost $10! That was quite a bit more money then, but we thought it was cheap and accessible to experiment with.

The first IBM PC came out in 1983. I remember it well, although it was more than I could afford. I bought a second hand one a few years later – it had a 5¼” floppy drive, a 20MB hard drive and 1MB of RAM. Wow. (An 8GB USB thumb drive on your keyring  has 400 times the capacity and costs 1/10 the price). [And that was my downfall. I divide my life into BC and PC – Before Computer and Post Computer. Before, I used to do woodwork, cabinet making, photography…  After the PC came along, most of that fell away. I’ve become a total slave to this PC. It’s all useful stuff, but I’m so stuck to this chair!]

1994 VC1 b

Ampex ACR25. This is just the right hand cabinet, the left one was as big.

I think I mentioned the Ampex ACR25 video cart recorder/players I worked on for 20 years. They were designed in the early 1970s (we got our two in late 1974) and used quite early integrated circuits, primitive now and not very reliable. If microprocessors had been available then, they could probably have cut the control electronics (RH bay above, below the meter) down to one small board. (Ask any tech who worked on these machines what was the most troublesome board? B16 and B17. Hands down.)

Anyway, it’s inspired me to document this history here because I lived it all, and it’s still going on, ever smaller, ever more powerful, ever cheaper, ever more reliable. As the book documents, we’re reaching a limit, where the transistors are now only a few atoms thick and invisible to even the most powerful microscopes. They’re etched using extreme ultra-violet light and the connecting tracks are only a few wavelengths of light wide. It’s just astounding. And it ain’t gonna stop.

Haven’t got time to do it now.

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