Saturday, December 19, 2009


Inmos was a state-funded semiconductor company set up in 1978 and hurriedly sold-off by the conservative government under Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The company retained its identity until 1994, when it was fully assimilated into SGS-Thomson - a european multinational.

The years in between proved to be an exciting and special time - at least for those of us who were there - and earlier this week a number of people met up to celebrate the fact.

There was no cabaret, there were no smoke machines, no self-congratulatory whooping. As this was the first such reunion ever (in this country at least), most people were content to meet old friends, to share stories and to catch up on current news. I had a great time myself - as I am sure others did too. We have Claire Maudsley to thank for organising it all.

As Iann Barron - one of the three founders - said in a short welcoming speech, although Inmos is commonly considered to have failed as a profitable enterprise it fostered a microelectronics culture around Bristol whose influence is felt to this day. As the old company slowly collapsed in on itself it sent out spores that grew into new start-ups: some flowering spectacularly before withering away, others growing into significant companies in their own right.

See The Inmos Legacy by Dick Selwood to find out more, as well as the Wikipedia entry on the Transputer to see what it was that kept us at work late into the evening and - on more than one occasion - through to the next morning.

For me, one of the most remarkable facts about those years was that - not content simply to design the Transputer (a groundbreaking, microscopic, computing machine) - we decided we might as well design everything else we were going to need, while we were at it: a new computer language (occam), the software used to design the chip, the operating system, the computers on which that software ran, the communication network, text editors and so on - everything.

It's not like that anymore.

Ah ... but things were done differently in those days. Your modern silicon chip, for all its staggering power and complexity, is a cold and soulless thing. The devices we made were lovingly shaped out of the living crystal, their datapaths as beautiful as fine oriental carpets, microcode as rich as any tapestry. And we secretly carved our initials into our work (a practice long since outlawed) and emblazoned the corners with depictions of mythical beasts, peculiar to our secret guilds.

I was talking to an old friend at the reunion. He told me how his daughter, home from university, had suddenly confessed that she had no idea what he did at work and would he tell her. He explained that he had been engaged for a number of years in designing the devices used to construct wireless networks. His daughter looked puzzled. "But that stuff just works, doesn't it?" she said.

If you stop to think about it - it's a great compliment.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On seeing the Anish Kapoor exhibition

So I did get to see the Anish Kapoor exhibition in the end. Three of us travelled to London from our village and made a day of it.

Strangely though, it was the TV program 2 weeks earlier that gave rise to my more philosophical musings about the exhibition. The thing itself was more along the lines of a fairground - what with the funny mirrors and the firing of the meat gun every 20 minutes.

Some of the objects were so greedy for space that people had to pick their way around them. Others, like the huge mirrored surfaces, conveyed a different message. Through reflections (and reflections of reflections) of people and of architecture, they created all the space you could possibly want.

And then there was that massive wax stool, forced slowly and steadily through the graceful arched portals separating a line of galleries.

Now what was that all about, I wonder?

Monday, December 14, 2009


Is Simon Cowell the British Berlusconi?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Just one more ...

The news that 29 senior managers in the UK Border Agency are to be paid bonuses averaging £10,000 each as a reward for, to quote the immigration minister Phil Woolas: 'delivering what the government is asking them to do', leads me to speculate on their baseline job description:

You will be expected to carry out your duties with no worse than mild to moderate incompetence. With respect to negligence or serious professional misconduct, there must be no more than one such episode in any 12 month period. Patronising behaviour, verbal abuse, sexual harassment and non-physical bullying will be tolerated, provided these are kept within reasonable limits and can be shown to be compatible with corporate goals.

And finally, at at time when many ordinary working families are facing unprecedented challenges to their security and standard of living, you will be expected to lead and motivate a team of 25,000 front-line staff by fostering an environment of mutual respect and shared values.

Reader: I thought you said you were going to cut down on this kind of thing?

Omnivorist: I know. It's just ... I get this sort of red mist.

Reader: For goodness sake! Try and get a grip on yourself.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A sad day

I awoke this morning to the news that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to investigate claims of data manipulation and scientific fraud from within its own ranks.

Don't get me wrong: I don't believe for a moment that there is any substance to the accusations, but to say that the situation is serious - with the Copenhagen Climate Summit just days away - would be an understatement. To all intents and purposes the Copenhagen summit is now dead. Even if effective agreements can be reached in Copenhagen, back in the US Senate they will face something resembling an angry nest of hornets.

What is certain is that we are witnessing the successful culmination of a calculated, well-funded and professional public relations campaign. They will teach courses on it in future years (though they might have to get a move on, I guess). You can see how it was done here.

And with regard to my recent post - in which I tried to belittle the climate change sceptics - I now see that as somewhat naive. Dismissing climate change sceptics on the grounds that they lack scientific credentials is about as pointless as criticising a bunch of thugs, hired to break up a town-hall meeting, on the poor quality of their debating skills.

It seemed (to me at least) that the climate change issue could be argued in terms of science alone. After today it is clear it has to be fought politically.

See the DeSmogBlog for further background on the role of lobbying and PR in the climate change debate.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Admirable self-restraint

A government minister has told bankers "to come back into the real world" after Royal Bank of Scotland directors threatened to resign over bonuses
(BBC 03/12/2009).

I'm not going to say anything about this. I'm beginning to bore myself with blogs about bankers.

Reader: Well thank goodness for that. Maybe we can move on to the interesting stuff now.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lead balloon

It was beginning to look like the USA had a monopoly on barmy climate change sceptics but now, with the news that BNP leader Nick Griffin is to represent the European parliament at the Copenhagen summit, it's gratifying to see us making a real contribution of our own at last.

Oddly enough, I feel a certain anticipatory pleasure at the sight of the sceptics clambering aboard their lead balloon. There's something about their style that suggests they consider the whole climate change issue to be nothing more than a matter of argument - with Reality, Nature or whatever you want to call the stuff out there, waiting patiently in the wings - ready to fall into line with whichever side comes out on top.