Random Blogspace

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Letters From The Edge of Blogspace: MOV ax, 1; CMP ax, interest; JE Pi

Published March 1, 2012 by Christine

I’ve just registered for the new Raspberry Pi. It’s a credit card sized computer, no case, just the basics and it will run Linux (Debian). It only costs £22+VAT and I’m getting one. Why? Because for the first time, since the advent of the ZX80, there is a computer that will allow hardware and software experimentation for almost no cost at all, except the time that is put into it, and is compatible with the world around us. This also started me thinking. Will it be the butterfly, flapping its wings now, to create a storm in the future? Personally, I think it will.

The problem with today’s school curriculum is that IT is taught with an emphasis on how to use applications, rather than how to create them. How to use computers rather than how to get into the ‘nuts & bolts’ or ‘bits & bytes’ of building them and how they work. I wonder how many children leave school with the ability to calculate a binary sequence. But then, the interest has to be there as well. In the real world there is not much call for binary sequences, admittedly but, where will our next generation of programmers come from? Who will come up with new innovations if those who are interested are not given the opportunity to learn and show their skills?

When the ZX80 came out, followed by the ZX81 & Spectrum, it spawned a whole new generation of computer enthusiasts, including myself. Had these machines came when they did, we may not have learned of our interests and talents until much later in life, maybe not at all, but they came, and we did. We learned how these machines worked, about the central processing unit and how it interfaced to the counter timer chip and the difference between RAM and ROM, (and how to reprogramme the ROM). We learned how to program in BASIC, FORTH and, mostly for me, machine language, (hence the title). We learned how to interface these machines to other equipment such as keyboards, audio kit, other machines. All of this without a single IT lesson in school. (The closest I came was our school computer club, run by our mildly psychotic physics teacher.  With my trusty ZX Spectrum and the RML 380Z I learned how to code in Z80 machine language and hand-compile it to enter it. (There was the Blast compiler, but this used so much RAM that you could only compile a few lines of code before running out of memory). This stood me in good stead when moving up to x86-based machines as the machine language is very, very similar to the Z80). Then came such wonders as the Commodore 64, Dragon 32, Ace, BBC Micro A & B. All were subject to our generations detailed scrutiny, and none were found wanting (except maybe the Ace).

It seems, though, these days, all I hear from the younger generation are strange words such as XBox, PS3, WII. I must admit that the creation of the games market clobbered us as well with such products as Atic Atac, Manic Miner, Jetset Willy, Elite, Daley Thompson Sports, The Hobbit, etc. Many fell to the siren lure of the game, myself included. But these were all played on the machines that we used to program and tinker with. These days it’s all dedicated consoles, albeit with networking capability, but games consoles nontheless.

With the advent of the Pi, maybe a new generation of programmers will discover the joys of programming and fiddling with hardware, learning how to think in binary when creating an interface to another machine, imagining the sequence of events and then writing an application to make it a reality. The Pi, though, cannot do this on it’s own. Unlike the days of the ZX80 et al, things are far more complex. It will require the introduction of a proper computer science curriculum, teaching everything from simple binary arithmetic to object orientated programming, including how computers work, hardware as well as software. It will also take teachers who can not only recognise budding talent and interest, but foster that interest, allowing it to grow, otherwise, in 10, maybe fifteen, years time, IT will become an import business, with our IT infrastructure being sold to the lowest bidder.

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I’ve (Not) Been Driving In My Car….

Published June 12, 2011 by Christine

A slight paraphrase on “Driving In My Car” by Madness, 1982.

Before anyone reminds me: Yes I know the following is the result of my own stupidity, my own fault. I am not trying to excuse that. This is just a rant at the DVLA’s DMG (Drivers Medical Group).

Right, rant time. I am getting really pissed off with the DVLA. Three years ago I lost my license on a charge of “Being in charge of a vehicle while unfit through drink“. Fair do’s, I received a three year ban and other punishments. This was in February 2008. I have “done my time” and accepted my punishment with good grace. In December 2010 I received the standard letter stating that I could now reapply for my license, but I would need to undergo a medical by a DVLA approved doctor. No problem. I borrowed the requisite £90 application fee and the £96 doctors fee from my mother and sent the £90 with the application form to the DVLA on Feb 22nd 2011 (which is when my ban ended). I then received, on 12th March, a letter dated 8th March 2011 giving me the name and address of the doctor I needed to see for the medical. I phoned the surgery and was told the next available appointment was on 7th April 2011, fine, no problem.

Before the medical I had to see my own doctor and had to have a blood test for liver function etc. This, surprisingly, showed everything within normal parameters, considering how much I used to drink. Even my own doctor was surprised, considering the alcohol levels and liver readings on previous blood tests. So I was hopeful for the DVLA one.

I attended the medical, paid my £96 and the doctor was quite thorough and business-like. The letter I received from DVLA stated that they should received the results within 14 days and make a decision within 4 weeks. Using these maximum parameters, the latest I should have received a decision and/or license would have been 19th May. On 9th May I received a letter (dated 3rd May), with a photocopy of the doctor’s form, asking for the full name, address and phone/fax numbers of my GP! The examining doctor had only put my GP’s name on the form, not the address and number I gave her! Fuming, I wrote back to the DVLA with the required details in a big, bold font so they wouldn’t miss it and posted it the same day (9th May).

On the 16th May, I received a letter, dated 11th May, stating that they had received the results from the medical exam and would now need to write to my GP for further information:

Quote:

To allow us to progress your application further we have now written to your GP for further information. We usually expect a reply within four weeks. When we receive their reply our medical adviser will then consider your fitness to drive. This may take some time but as soon as a decision has been made we will let you know.

How very vague.

Unfortunately, prior to this letter I had changed my name at the GP surgery and on the NHS list, so I had spoken to my GP and told him to expect a letter from the DVLA in Marks name, and could he reply accordingly.

I have since emailed the DVLA several times to request an update but so far have had no reply. I am not bothering to phone them as last time I did that I used a full £10 in credit while on hold.

In 1997, I was convicted of the same thing. At the end of my ban (3 months) I had to send off my application form with the required fee. There was no medical required (despite the exceptionally high reading), and I received my license back within two weeks!

According to my calculations the four week response time is over and I am now into the very vague “considering fitness to drive” period.

Rant over.

There is a message here: DON’T GO ANYWHERE NEAR A CAR IF YOU HAVE BEEN DRINKING

Here endeth the lesson.

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