Magic Lanterns

Magic lantern 01

During the Edinburgh International Film Festival last week I saw a film called Cinema, Mon Amour, a documentary about a group trying to save an old cinema in Romania. Afterwards the Filmhouse very kindly gave us a short tour of the main projection booth – we had to be quiet and I couldn’t use the flash as another festival screening was going on below us (we could see it through the wee rectangular window in the booth). The pair of decades old cine projectors are named Kenneth and Sid – even in this bastion of arthouse and international film, the Carry On movies have influence!

Magic lantern 02

Quite nostalgic for me to see these and hear them – the whirring sound of anaologue projectors is part of my childhood memories of cinema, and at home we had a Super 8mm cine camera as well as our 35mm still cameras, and we screened them quite often on long winter’s nights for the family. There’s something satisfying about old analogue tech like this, you can see it moving, see how it works. The Filmhouse must be one of the last cinemas in the city that retains the ability to show actual film prints as well as digital and properly trained projectionists. They were telling us about their skills, from being able to change from one projector to the other seamlessly mid-film, fixing broken celluloid to adjusting focus, ratio and even speed for different formats and eras (early films shot on hand-cranked cameras require a lot of skill to adjust the film speed, since their shooting rate varied as cameramen’s arms got tired. Lovely to see these magic lanterns which paint stories on a screen using nothing more than light…

Magic lantern 03

Magic lantern 04

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.

National Museum of Scotland 017

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…