Richard Thompson's Website

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My Chronicle for 2007

(produced on Thursday 27th December 2007)
With the same reservations I recorded last year, I'm once again putting an annual review on this site. I have thought of one advantage that didn't occur to me last year; as I get more forgetful and absent minded I may find it useful to refer to a record of past activities. I do sometimes look at very old emails and occasioanlly find they record things I'd quite forgotten - I keep all emails except spam. Most of this chroncile consists of extracts from emails to various people.

2007 did not include any event as momentous as the building of the extension, though work on the premises continues. Jon has reconstructed the front garden, and the dowstairs back room is being reorganised. The fireplace has been removed, and we are waiting for someone to install new windows, and for someone else to replaster. Wayne, who built the extension, was to have installed the new windows, but he died very suddenly in February. He was only 48; I gather the problem was a blocked coronary artery.

Otherwise I've continued to pursue my old hobbies, U3A, gardening, reading (for details see: books), computing, playing Go and exchanging emails with friends, all described here

My commitment to the Leicester U3A has increased during the year. During the Winter I helped to set up a website for the organisation, and was then appointed Web Master, responsible for the day to day management of the site. Then at the November meeting of the Science and Technology Group I agreed to take over as Group Leader - the previous Group Leader also runs another group and wanted to concentrate on that. I have put on this site the text of a talk on Artificial Intelligence that I gave to the Science group. I've started to prepare another talk about Fractals and chaos so I have something ready to fill any gap that may appear in our timetable of events.

It was with the Science and Technology group that I made my first every visit to Bletchey Park where Turing and others decoded German messages during the last war. As Bletchley Park is very near to Bletchley station, all but one of us went by train. We travelled to Bedford on the London train and then caught the local train to Bletchley, running over the only surviving part of the line that used to go all the way from Cambridge to Oxford; the trains maintain the tradition of that line by stopping at every station. When I was up at Cambridge I often used that line to travel between Cambridge and Leicester. In those days one had to walk through the centre of Bedford between Midland Station and St. John's. Fortunately the two stations are now linked by rail.

There was lots of fascinating material at Bletchley Park, and it helped to be with like minded and well informed people; our party of nine included five PhD's. The only drawback was that when we took the guided tour we got a distressingly loquacious guide. I could have said everything that he said in about half the time, and everything that he needed to say in even less time.

A bonus for our group was to hear an explanation of the Colossus computer from Tony Sale, who has spent a number of years rebuilding it from contemporary components, including several thousand thermionic valves scrounged from various sources.

Colossus has been simulated by a program that will run on a PC, but it is interesting to note that the simulation runs no faster than valve based original, a wonderful illustration of the superiority of a hard wired system to a general purpose computer.

Approximately monthly visits to London have continued. At the end of May we planned to go to Kew to admire the rhodedendrons if it was fine, and visit Museums otherwise. Otherwise being the prevailing condition, we went to South Kensington and looked at the V&A, the Science Museum and the Natural History museum, but we had overlooked the implications of school holidays combined with the abolition of entry charges.

Every museum was infested by numerous noisy children, not looking at any of the exhibits but running about and contributing to a general hubbub that made it impossible to take anything in. Last time I went to the Nat History Museum there were some large galleries showing numerous rock samples neatly arranged in cases. I thought that those galleries at least could be expected to hold no interest for the odious infantry, and should therefore be oases of peace and quiet, but I couldn't find them. I hope they haven't een abolished in favour of displays designed to amuse children. Every museum should have some rooms specially designed to bore children !!

After a while we abandoned the museums, and took refuge in a crÍperie, where charming young men cooked delicious morsels for us to eat, thence to a pub, followed by a meal in China town at an excellent establishment where we once held a gathering of cix folk, so all ended well :-)

In July we did manage to get to Kew for our third visit in just over a year; we still managed to find something we had missed on the last two visits, namely the order beds. Once again we were there till closing time.

In August we visited Hampton Court. Gerard didn't recall ever visiting before and I had been there only once before,in the early 1970's. The grace and favour residences seem to have disappeared in the meantime though there are traces of some of them in the form of nameplates on doors that lead nowhere in particular and I think there's now more for visitors to look at. We even managed to see part of a game of Royal Tennis. We also got to the centre of the maze needing to retrace our steps only twice.

Hampton Court is now run by a special Charity called Historic Royal Palaces that also has charge of the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House, and Kew Palace. They sell one year season tickets allowing unlimited entry to all five, so we bought a joint one for 58 pounds, and have already used it to visit four of the five palaces - all but Kew Palace. The banqueting house is little more than one very large and admittedly impressive room with a commendably full recorded commentary and the free entry to Kew Palace is available only to people who have already paid to get into the Botanmic Gardens, but the other three palaces are substantial. We have already saved more than 25 pounds, and expect to have saved considerably more by the time the ticket expires at the end of September, because we plan to re-visit both Hampton Court and The Tower to deal with parts we didn't have time to look at on our first visits. Kensington Palacewas on a smaller scale and our one visit may suffice. The refreshment room there was particuarly expensive even by the standards of central London; having looked at the menu, we walked out without ordering.

As Neither of us has ever looked round either Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace we hope to visit at least one of those in 2008

With the help of various Internet sites I recently managed to teach myself a little Javascript. It is a simple programming language, not entirely unlike BASIC, which can be used to put simple programs on web pages - the principal web browsers have built in Javascript interpreters. I'd mised being able to write simple programs of just a few lines, and have already written Javascript programs to illustrate chaotic behaviour.

In July, for the first time that I can remember, I attended a family wedding, of the eldest daughter of my youngest cousin. Held at Bentley, near Farnham , it was just within my day tripping range, though I was delayed by more than and hour and a half on the journey there. The train from Leicester delivered me in London in a brisk hour and a quarter, and half an hour after that I was at Waterloo just in time to catch a train before the one I really needed too. That train too skipped along cheerily for a while, then came an announcement - we were likely to be delayed by an 'unpredictable' time because of 'a fatality at Weybridge'. Five other trains were waiting ahead of ours.

When we eventually reached Farnham there seemed to be an accumulation of people from various trains on the platform - I think that because there are only two stops beyond Farnham on that line they hadn't bothered to run all the trains all the way to the terminus. I got into conversation with someone who had been on the train that made the kill. He said that the train had been travelling at about 70 mph when someone had just stepped in front of it, so it appeared to be a suicide. I wonder whether, in such cases, the costs of the delay are a charge on the estate of the deceased ?

I therefore missed the ceremony, but not the drinks in the garden or the party, so in the circumstances I managed rather well. All the proceedings took place in what seemed to be a special function centre called Bury Court, which is a conversion from an Oast House and associated buildings. We used the old barn, a huge building with great wooden beams supporting a lofty ceiling - most impressive. As it was a bright sunny day, post ceremonial drinks of kir royale were served in the gardens which were an excellent example of an attractive low maintenance garden, using a lot of ornamental grasses. There are some pictures at this site

It was the first family wedding I've attended since I was a small child and the very first I can actually remember. My two married cousins both married South of London while I was in Altrincham, so they were definitely out of day tripping range. Thus summer I met many of my cousin's inlaws for the first time.

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