Prehistoric computing

I’ve been meaning to get into the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh since it re-opened in the middle of the summer – it was closed for several years for a huge revamp and I’m glad to have it open to everyone again.  I avoided going in during the height of the tourist season, but last week on a day off I was at my dentist, which is only a few minutes walk from the museum, so I thought why not walk down and spend the afternoon getting familiar with an old friend again? As well as the sorts of things you might expect in a large, Victorian museum – Egyptian mummies, T-Rex skeleton etc – the NMS has a nice line in engineering, science and technology history, part of which includes some now historic ‘hi-tech’ (well, it was at the time), from circuit boards from the massive 50s and 60s computers that filled rooms to this, one of the first of what we’d recognise as a modern home computer, the Commodore PET, from the late 70s.

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First computer I ever saw was one of these, my dad’s friend was an amateur meteorologist and had all sort of tech in his home, including a HAM radio and a printer that gave him direct feeds from a weather satellite (pretty nifty for late 70s). When he added this PET to his collection he had dad bring me round knowing I would find it interesting. Few years later I’d have my own home computer, a Texas Instruments 99/4a and I’ve had a computer of some sort since then (scary to think I have had a computer of some sort for 30 years now). A few years into high school I was given day release with some friends to go into a college in Glasgow one day a week to attend a computer training course, around 83 or maybe 84 – we were gobsmacked to see their computer labs was full of these PETs, because by then these were prehistoric, we expected BBC Model Bs! And their course was for people who had never used a computer, while we had all pretty much taught ourselves how to programme in BASIC several years before and so found what we thought would be an exciting ‘grown up’ course rather dull, but hey, got us a day out of school and into town… Anyway, I posted a shot of this Commodore behind glass in the NMS and shared it on the BoingBoing Flickr pool, noticed a few days later the views on it went crazy – 2, 500 views in about a day, which means a single pic was doing over twice my daily average for my whole Flickr… Turned out Xeni had reposted it on the main BoingBoing blog (one of my fave spots of online reading for many years, also shared the story of my doocing years back). Nice. Seems a lot of people had memories of this, ah, geek nostalgia…

Happy 110th birthday, Kelvingrove

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Today marks the 110th anniversary of a true Scottish institution opening its doors to the public: on May 2nd, 1901 the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum first admitted the people of Glasgow and Scotland to enter within this temple of delights. Generations of Scots have grown up with the Kelvingrove, walking through the pleasures of nearby Kelvingrove park, or coming down from the Gothic spires of nearby Glasgow University and the Bohemian pleasures of studenty Byres Road, to the banks of the Kelvin and this palace of wonders and knowledge and art. Those generations include me: like many children growing up in Glasgow the Kelvingrove was a regular pleasure, my parents taking me in there. It was my childhood idea of what a great museum should be – knights in shining armour, Egyptian mummies, mighty dinosaur skeletons! My, what treasures to delight a wee boy, to spark his imagination and generate a lifelong love of history and learning.

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And the adult me adores it still – when my friend (who also grew up visiting the Kelvingrove) and I went through after the museum re-opened after an extensive refurbishment we both still loved it. A real Supermarine Spitfire hanging from the cieling in one gallery right above a giraffe! An Egyptian sarcophogus. Exquisitely made medieval armour – among the many collections the museum enjoys an international reputation for is its arms and armour, it boasts one of the finest collections anywhere. And then those light filled upper galleries full of artworks, from the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys to an international panoply of artists of the ages. It is the first place I saw Salvador Dali’s powerful Christ on the Cross, an amazing work even to those of us who have no truck with religion. And it is still free – free to all the citizens of Glasgow and Scotland and our visitors, a people’s palace, open to and run for the people of its city and country, long may it continue.

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rrroaaarrrrr!!!

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The Flashing Blade

Admiring some beautiful, historic swords in the National Museum of Scotland, brings out the Flashing Blade in me, urge to swashbuckle rises… In truth that urge to swashbuckle is never far from the surface, which is probably one of the reason I fenced throughout school and then years later at college. Although not with these. Gorgeous basket-handled Scottish swords, including a very unusual curved blade. Beautiful work, although I prefer a sword with a less elaborate guard so it leaves the fingers and wrist more free to make light, quick movements, which is a better method of defence for the hand than a large guard, at least that’s how I was trained.

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An enormous Claymore – Claymore from this period are generally massive weapons, but I think this one was perhaps ceremonial

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Shadows cast by the Claymore:

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The roofs of Edinburgh

Recently I did something I hadn’t done before – in fact something I didn’t even know you could do: go onto the roof of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. I’ve been in many times but I had no idea there is a large roof terrace (with native plant garden) that you are free to visit too. I’ve wandered around the museum many times but the signs to the roof aren’t too obvious and most folks in Edinburgh I mentioned it too didn’t realise you could go up there either. Lovely spot offering pretty much 360 degree views over the roofs of the Old Town towards the Mile, over historic Greyfriars Kirk, nearby Edinburgh University, the Pentland Hills beyond the city, Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which rears out of the royal park right in the middle of Edinburgh, and, of course, the Castle. Again I find myself wishing I could afford to upgrade to the camera I have my eye on which has much more zoom power, but even so it was still a great and quiet spot to stand and take in the view and shoot a few pics:

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Scottish mining museum

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When I was off earlier this month I went down the coast a little outside Edinburgh to the Scottish Mining Museum, which I’ve been meaning to go to for ages (the 26 bus right from the city centre takes you to right to the entrance). Annoyingly the visitor centre and inside attractions and tours weren’t up and running, even though I had checked the website before going down and it indicated everything was, but I did get to wander around all the surface remains and had the place largely to myself at the time too, quite atmospheric, so quiet now but once teeming with hundreds and hundreds of men working in the mine, the mighty boilers of the power house and the nearby brick kilns. Shot quite a lot of photos and only now uploading them – the first batch are on my Flickr page, with more to follow, and also a short video 360 panorama:

More of the Louvre

Since blogger is grudgingly and slowly letting me upload some pics tonight, some more pics from Paris, still sticking with the Louvre theme:

I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid which now functions as the entrance to the Louvre, descending down into the pyramid to a vast space with the ticket desks, information and entrances to the various wings of what is probably the world’s most famous museum. Turn the other way and walk through the Jardin de Tuileries and you come out into a square leading your eyes up a line straight to the Champs Elysees and L’Arc de Triomphe.

heading into one of the wings with some of the Louvre’s astonishing amount of Classical material

Which includes the world’s original supermodel, The Venus de Milo. Who I believe is now romantically linked with Paul McCartney 🙂

La Joconde – the Mona Lisa, smiling for the many tourists. While photography seemed to be fine in most of the Louvre they did ask – as is the usual case in any gallery – not to use cameras in the rooms with the paintings, probably because so many idiots don’t know how to switch off their flash which damages them. Despite the fact I rarely use the flash I still kept my camera in my pocket for this wing, despite masses of tourists – especially the many Japanese – merrily ignoring the rule and firing camera flashes off right in front of the paintings which made me want to slap them round the head, bloody idiots. There were so many the curators didn’t even try to stop them. I broke my rule and did take one painting pic for this (no flash so I don’t feel to guilty) as people were standing right there in front of curators snapping away.

One of the things I really liked in the wings with the paintings was the fact that several artists had been allowed to set up their easels to paint their own versions of some of the works, something I found to be rather satisfying to see. Actually La Joconde wasn’t the most impressive painting there, famous as she is – the best work I saw (and there were many we didn’t have time to see properly, it is vast) was one that annoyingly I can’t remember the name of, but it reminded me of one of the Venetian paintings I raved about on here a few years back when there was an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Academy. I wish I could remember the name or artist, but like a couple of the works I saw there it leapt out the frame at me, the colours, especially the blues, so amazingly bright and vibrant it was like the artist had painted Mediterannean sunlight right into the canvas, still pouring out of the painting centuries later.

In the Richelieu wing there was this terrific open space, essentially a sculpture garden indoors, with this amazing glass and steel roof (like a smaller version of the brilliant one now on top of the British Museum in London) shielding us from the elements so it felt like being outside but sheltered. Natural light floods this space and its twin further along the wing (these are the ones in the video clips from the other day) and a lot of artists were making the most of the light to sketch some of the friezes and sculptures; I’d imagine the statues would afford a great class in how to portray human anatomy and form and what a terrific space to draw in. Or take pictures in.

I love this space, I think I could sit here for ages

Inside the glass pyramid – I love the spiral staircase with no visible means of support (not even thin suspended wires); the column it is wrapped round is actually a lift. Its open at the top and the entire column sinks down – it doesn’t telescope down, the entire structure actually slides down into the floor, very cool!

As usual click the pics to see the larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream (only 184 in the Paris set so far, still a ton to add; no doubt many more Paris pics and vids to come!)