Peter's Blog

Just commenting on things that interest me

Month: April 2020

My Second Job – Shield Insurance

My second job was with Shield Insurance, from 1981 to 1989.

When I joined the IT Department (which was called the “Systems Department” in those days) the staff from both Life and General Insurance were located together, in Pembroke Road in Ballsbridge.

From the outset I worked on the Life side of the business, and when the Life company moved out to Blackrock (which the General Manager told us at the time was the “Ballsbridge of the future”) I went with them.

Initially we had an IBM System/34 but we moved over to Wang systems subsequently. Over time I began to focus more and more on PCs, as these became an increasingly important part of our business.

Shield was acquired by Eagle Star after I left and subsequently became Zurich which it is today.

It is hard to find even the logo of Shield or Shield Life on the internet today.  So here are a few items which I have photographed for posterity.

The first is a header from a letter which I received in 1989. Note that there was a fax and telex number, and that the phone number had only six digits!

The second is a footer form a payslip I received in the same year. Notice the sprocket holes on the left which were required to feed the paper through the printer.

The third is a golf accessory I got at some stage while I was working with the company (golf was a big deal both within the company and with the broker community).

I had a great time in Shield and I made a lot of great friends who are still friends today.

I intend to do some posts about the projects I worked on in Shield over the coming days and weeks.

My first job – Computime

I mentioned in my old blog that my first job was in a company called “Computime” which was a “Computer Bureau”.

The company was located at 20 Upper Mount Street in Dublin. I worked there for two years starting in June 1979.

The company was founded and run by Kevin Gallagher.

I joined the company as an “Operator”, meaning that I managed the computer and ran the various batch jobs which our customers required.

Later I became a Programmer. I intend to write about some of the projects I worked on over the coming days/weeks.

The company was staffed as follows:

  • The management team (one or two people at various stages while I was there)
  • The Receptionist
  • The Programming team (one or two)
  • The “Data Prep” team (one supervisor and six to eight data prep people)
  • The “Operators” (two or three people)

The computer room was in the basement. The computers were delivered through the basement window. There was a door from the basement to a small outside space. If you were walking along Upper Mount Street while the printer was going, then you could hear the clatter from the street.

I learned a lot in Computime, and I made some great friends, some of whom are close friends to this day.

There is very, very little information about the company on the internet. The Companies Registration Office has records of when the company was registered (1969) and when it was finally dissolved (1995).

There is mention of the company and the founder here: https://techarchives.irish/minicomputer-systems-and-software-1969-82/robert-poynton/

I still have two letters from Computime which are on the company’s headed paper. The first is my job offer. The second is a written reference.

In an effort to have some kind of visual record of the company’s existence, here is the header from the first of these letters. Note that this document dates back to the time when Dublin phone numbers had 6 digits!

Five things I hate about Lost in Space

Lost in Space was a television show which ran for three seasons from 1965.

The show was more successful that it should have been, perhaps, because people like the interplay between Dr. Smith, the young Will Robinson and the robot. Here’s an interview where the late Jonathan Harris speaks about the effect on Guy Williams when he, Harris, became the star of the show which Williams (as John Robinson) was expected to have been.

I enjoyed the original show because I loved the robot as I explained in my old blog.

in 2018 Netflix released a new version of Lost in Space. We’ve had two seasons now and apparently (like the original series) there will be only three.

Here are five things which I hate about this remake:

1) The Robot

In the original series the Robot is one of the central characters. He is funny and wise and useful. In the new series he is none of these things. They decided that he would be more interesting if he didn’t speak and was uncooperative, unpredictable and threatening all of the time. This was a mistake imho.

2) Dr. Smith

The writers decided that Dr. Smith should be a woman in this remake. That’s not a problem, but they decided that she should be an almost entirely unsympathetic character. Actually she’s not even Dr. Smith, but is someone who has assumed that identify. And she has murdered at least one person. So of the three central characters in the original series we now have two of these who are basically evil!

3) The life-or-death puzzles

Every week there seems to be some kind of dangerous puzzle which the characters have to solve in order to stay alive. These are completely pointless and uninteresting. I can’t really give examples of the puzzles as I just fast forward through this part in every episode. This is a complete waste of time.

4) John and Don survive the destruction of their ship

During season 1, John and Don are killed when their ship explodes in episode 8. But two episodes later they are successfully rescued because they survived the explosion and have been able to cling to some wreckage in space all this time! This is just ridiculous. I don’t think there was even any attempt at explaining this! But rescuing them became yet another of these life-or-death puzzles (which I didn’t watch).

5) Penny’s dialogue

In an attempt to attract teenage viewers, I assume, there quite a bit of awful dialogue which seems to centre around Penny and her relationships. I don’t know much about this because I fast forward through this as well.

So there you have it. Five reasons why I hate Lost in Space.

Even though I have watched the first two seasons, I think this is the only TV show I have ever watched where I fast forward through a substantial part of each episode. I just don’t care what is happening in those parts!

The only bright spot in the show is that I like Molly Parker and the way she plays Maureen Robinson.

I understand that the show has been renewed by Netflix for a fourth “and final” season.

Here is a video which shows the relationship between Smith and the Robot on the original series:

Deconstructing a 6502

I have mentioned previously some people who have done unbelievable things in computing, often in their spare time.

But these four guys did something else that is completely unbelievable: Barry Silverman, Brian Silverman, Ed Spittles, and Greg James wrote an emulator for a 6502 which does not depend on a manual of opcodes. They actually dismantled a 6502 to find out exactly how it was constructed.

Then they wrote a visual emulator which reproduces the work which the basic components (3500+ transistors) are doing.

This emulator does not emulate what the 6502 is supposed to be doing. It emulates what the 6502 is actually doing!

It’s an amazing achievement. The emulator can correctly emulate undocumented opcodes because it is doing what the basic components would be doing!

Now that they have conquered the 6502 they have started looking at other chips.

You can access their website here.

And here is a video where Michael Steil give a very good explanation of what the team did and how they did it:

Building a Computer

I mentioned in a previous post that Ben Eater has a brilliant series of videos on building a computer from scratch.

He had a new series which is very good on building a computer using a 6502 microprocessor.

This is the microprocessor that I know best as it was in my Apple ][ and in my Atari 800.

Here is a link to his website where you can watch the videos (there are eight as I wrote this) and also buy the kit from him.

Here is the first video in the series:

Star Trek Picard and Game of Thrones

I described my disappointment with STP in my last post.

In this post I just want to link to a very interesting video where “Major Grin” shows how Alex Kurtzman admits to being influenced by the success of Game of Thrones and  wanting to introduce a “darker tone” into the new Star Trek series. He says “nobody complains about having to pay for GOT so we have to do the same”.

He also shows us how comfortable is he with “the F word”. He thinks that introduction of swearing into Star Trek is “kind of wonderful”.

The video has quotes from Kurtzman and also has scenes from both Discovery and Picard showing where these series paid homage (to put it kindly) to GOT.

The man is an idiot imho. If we want to watch GOT then we will watch that. If we want to watch Breaking Bad then we will watch that. Your job was to give us new Star trek.

Six things I hated about Star Trek Picard

I mentioned in a previous post how disappointed I was with Star Trek Discovery (STD).

In spit of that, I managed to get a little excited about the prospect of Star Trek Picard. I guess the excitement came from Patrick Stewart and the character of Picard.

So how that season one is over, I can list (in no particular order) six things I hated about STP.

Disclaimer: because the show was so  poor, I wasn’t paying the closest attention. So please forgive me if I overlook something or if I get something wrong here.

1) The swearing, the gore, and the violence

This is mindless and gratuitous. It was unnecessary and has no place in the work of Star Trek. I will come back to this again in another post.

2) Major things that make no sense to me

The Romulans (specifically the “Zhat Vash”) have been working for generations to prevent devastation from synthetics. So when they finally bring their fleet to the Android planet, they are unable to kill the androids firstly because of some trickery, and then because Riker arrives with his fleet. These are supposed to be fanatics which have had visions about the devastation which synthetics will bring. They don’t seem to behave like true believers when the chips are down and all of their fears are coming to life right in front of their eyes

3) Minor things are make no sense to me

What the hell was that all about when those flowers (?) came up and brought down our heroes’ ship and the Borg ship?

What the hell was that mysterious device all about and how were the Romulans tricked by projections of non-existent ships?!

What was that about when our heroes went to that planet in stupid disguises (hats and eyepatches!) and, in Picard’s case, with a stupid accents?

4) Picard becomes an android

In the final episode, Picard dies and his consciousness is transferred into an Android body. But:

  • That body has been designed to look like him and to have his physical characteristics (strength, age, etc.)
  • We are asked to accept that the transfer was complete and that the Picard we know and love is in that new mechanical body and all set for season two

5) The story arc of Dr. Agnes Jurati

Agnes is given the vision of the devastation which synthetics will bring to the galaxy. She is so affected by that that she kills her mentor and lover. But:

  • She is never held to account for that murder. I don’t know if anyone even rebukes her about it! She should have to stand trial for that murder
  • The effects wear off so completely that she is able to tolerate and even help the actual synthetics a few episodes later!

6) Elnor

I am trying to imagine the writers room when they came up with this character:

  • We should have someone who looks like an elf from Lord of the Rings
  • Oh yeah. And he should fight with a sword and throwing weapons like a ninja
  • Yeah and he will somehow be able to hold his own in fights with people who have phasers and the like
  • Yeah but he should be sort of naive and innocent and not really know what is going on most of the time

Pathetic really.

There are more things I could talk about but I think I’ll leave it there for now. It was nice to see Riker, Troi and Seven appearing but tbh I didn’t really like what had been done with their stories in the intervening years.

One final note: I don’t know why Picard had two Romulans working for him at the start of the season, but I liked that Irish actress Orla Brady played the part of Loris and that she did not hide her own accent. It was fun to see a Romulan with an Irish accent

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