Robot Reboot

This is Prince Hal. Originally a Christmas Present (c1989) he was infra red controlled with the ability to follow a sequence of instructions sent to him from a television-remote style controller. Then, for no apparent reason, he ceased working . I gutted him and replaced the circuitry with that from a radio controlled car and a walkie talkie headset unit. Also a radio doorbell.

The walkie talkie sound output to his chest speaker and the radio controlled car circuit ran to his motors and head LEDs. Various other connections  were made which allowed for connecting a charger and pressure pad (for the doorbell as a proximity alarm).

The happy accident is that the voice activated microphone now triggered the wheels and the headlights. When put in front of a speaker the robot danced with delight and flashed his eyes. I added a mercury tilt switch and sometime later a mobile radio detecting LED, all of which made for a fun early experiment!



Circuitry is, in my opinion, the ultimate building material: not only can it be joined together, shaped and assembled to produce creations that have wonderful potential for all sorts of fun, it can now also be linked to computers through any number of teacher-friendly interface kits.

Coding then becomes a means to trigger electronic creations which is much more immediate and eye-catching for learners.




Programming appealed to me as soon as I was shown BASIC on a BBC at the back of the classroom, then via the Vtech ‘Pre-Computer 1000’ that I was given in Christmas 1990. It had a single line of dot matrix screen which scrolled questions but the best feature was simple BASIC functionality – which was great fun to explore.

Only thing was that there was no way to save the file – it was in volatile RAM that was lost as soon as the power button was pressed. This led to my first Program notebook – a tradition that I continue today for Python.





Kinder Surprise eggs have it all: the anticipation , the chocolate and of course the fun of building the toy inside (unless it is a disappointing figurine inside!) I gathered the assorted parts together from many eggs (and much chocolate later) in a tin which has recently turned up. These Mad Max looking creations are what happens when a ten year old is let loose with UHU glue and a tin of jumbled together K/S parts!


The Garage

From an early age I have seen the benefit of a dedicated “Maker Space”. Whereas the trend these days seems to be towards a themed and sometimes rather constrained approach to building projects – a little chaos can go a long way to widening the possibilities. The phrase “App Smashing” is given to the technique of using multiple applications to achieve a desired outcome in ICT. I think a similar approach of blending and overlapping a wild juxta-position of constructing techniques can trigger creations that feel more limitless.


Rooftop heroics

Sammy left many curious contraptions to me when he passed away in 2002. He had reached his 90s despite having raced trains in a Mini Cooper; survived a car-crash by holding on to the passenger seat so hard that he took it with him through the front window; jumped onto an out-of-control lorry that was jack-knifing its way over ice; and been a motorbike dispatch rider for the B-Specials in WW II.

This one is a chimney cleaner: lowered down from the roof directly into the chimney for the bolts to scrape away excess soot. I remember watching Sammy do it. Only his chain-saw gymnastics were more terrifying, yet oddly life-affirming.





Just The Thing

These pictures, taken on the Wrist Camera, were from Sammy’s Garage. Sammy was a very dear friend¬† who invented fearlessly and was blessed with the gift of spotting Just The Thing that he needed from within a maelstrom of spare parts and surplus fittings. He would use a long screw to stir up the contents of assorted tins from which would emerge an improbably apt candidate to be declared Just The Thing.


Watch My Day

In later years (C2001) I relished taking the 16kb black and white images that the Wrist Camera could produce. I registered then used an uploading script built by a friend to beam these little postcards out. They are comically dark and indistinct now but they capture a moment in time for me – I will create a gallery for them up here soon.




Wrist companion

The thing about boarding school is the lack of having your own private space (apart from a tuck box with, let’s say, a false bottom and number coded padlock..) For me the humble watch became a constant companion. From the early Butler Solar Powered watch that had been my Grandfather’s (worn and worn out by the time I was eight!)¬† via this radio watch and a range of data bank Casios, they each lent a reassuring presence – and kept me one step ahead of when I was meant to be on the games pitches.


Portable Paranoia

The Personal Alarm System was born!

I remember showing it to Dad and trying to summarise what a jumble of wires were inside the switch box.

(The switch box had been a joyous find nestled in the driver’s cab of a bus which had come to rest in a local scrapyard).

He must have winced when he saw the emergency ‘short’ feature – which literally short-circuited everything in case it wouldn’t stop!



For reasons that still elude me I was predisposed to secure my living environment. I loved a good security setup and having wired up my bedroom in ways that I will detail at another time – the idea must have come to me that to secure any environment – and to do it from a box – would be cool.


The first old box

Where I grew up there was a seemingly never-ending supply of Interesting Old Bits. During long Summer Holidays from boarding school I would make it my business to make. Literally nothing made me happier than the sheer act of making. This box appeared mid-rummage.


Close Up

Then I noticed the date when the fax was sent to Dad: 27 Jan 1992. It took me time to process that. I am so used to 1992 being the start of when Dad wasn’t there. Dad passed away on 13th Feb 1992 – seventeen days after that fax was sent to him. He was 47, in the final stages of kidney cancer, flat on his painful back on a bed in his beloved Study. His last mission which he had set himself was to learn to code.

I rushed home from boarding school, arriving on the night of 12th Feb 1992. I was 15. Dad mustered enough energy to wave to me when I stepped tremulously into his Study. Moments later he was unconscious. We could not speak again.


The Fax

It was while sorting through his papers some years ago that I found this fax. It was a guide to commands that would be used to program the Apple II. Dad used it for keeping his company accounts mainly with letters and shipping manifests also patiently tapped in.

This would have marked a departure for Dad: a getting to grips with the system architecture, a look under the bonnet. A logical man with a great capacity for studied reasoning, he would have loved this untapped functionality of his marvellous toy.




Dad had form with tech – long a fan of the telex and latterly the fax, he carried a shoulder-worn analogue mobile (which he called “Yuppy”), sported a Sharp IQ organizer (pocketable qwerty, touch screen for removable app cards and a hefty 128kb memory) and had assembled a hotch-potch of venerable old technology stars. This ‘Teletran’ is now on display in the Swindon Computer Museum (they gamely accepted it despite a general air of unspoken confusion between us about how it had actually functioned).


It wasn’t just Yuppy who was given a name. His battery-powered golf cart (c1984) was Herbie; the heating boiler was Helga (assisted by the more modest stoves Pinky and Perky); and a Landrover with glass windows in the back was The Popemobile.


The Apple II

That was 1987, back when beards and technology were rather interwoven. A few years back I got it going to some extent (a troublesome ROM chip notwithstanding) in the hopes of reading from some of the boxes and boxes of floppy disks that Dad had carefully saved (onto)