Knocker upper

Frequently portrayed as a job most likely to be seen in the gaslit streets of the grim mill towns in the industrial north of England, but more likely a viable profession anywhere large numbers of people worked for large employers, a knocker upper was responsible for waking people from their rest each workday morning. Why? Well, the alarm clocks of the day, before radio or home telephones, were unreliable, untrustworthy, even if a home could afford one.

From the Industrial Revolution through to the 1950s in the United Kingdom, the knocker upper’s job entailed arriving at the appointed time and tapping on the subscriber’s window with a long pole until they appeared at it. Or a pea shooter with dried peas. Or gravel. Or maybe rocks, but they probaby wouldn’t stay employed for very long.

This morning, a grey and wintry morning in the once-grim, once-industrial north of England, as I waited for my car to heat up a little so I could scrape its windows more quickly and efficiently, I had a brilliant idea, one I just had to share with a near neighbour.

Instead of, in this age of ultra-reliable timepieces, a wake-up call, why not a service that arrives outside one’s home, starts one’s car and scrapes the ice from its windows.

I’m absolutely certain it’ll be big. I see cars throughout the wintry months with uselessly-small patches of cleared glass, just enough to look forward through; it’s obvious their occupants are far too important to undertake the finger-end-numbing task, and prefer other lesser motorists to take any necessary avoiding action during the journey.

So, what time is convenient for you, and what shall I pitch the weekly cost at?

And will you get up when you’re called to pay? Whether you do or not I’m still going to have to pay my legions of early-rising gloved and scraper-wielding slaves, aren’t I.


This is a test of the Obsidian to WordPress plugin.

I’ve been using a really great notes app called Drafts on my iPhones since 2013, and lately on my Mac.

Someone I know on Mastodon mentioned a couple of days ago that they were taking a fresh look at another notes app/service called Obsidian.

Obsidian doesn’t keep all the notes in one file like Drafts, it instead saves in plain text files – in my case I’ve chosen to save as Markdown – and enables the creation of links between any number of files. Drafts does it too, but it’s an app with less scope and file portability.

Obsidian works on multiple platforms whereas Drafts appears only on Apple hardware. I’m using it in Apple hardware but it can be installed on Androids, Linux and Windows.


#blog , #write

Computer book acquired

Some 8 years ago I asked the Internet for help finding a computing book I bought at the beginning of the nineteen eighties – over forty years ago. (I’m spelling those numbers longhand because it’s an age ago and that needs appropriate emphasis). Now I’ll always regret letting it go because it set a foundation of understanding, of a love of things of computing that continues to this day. This weekend, after a chance conversation on Mastodon’s instance, I found it again.

It’s ‘The Good Computing Book for Beginners‘ by Dennis Jarrett, the link goes to the second edition – available for loan from The Internet Archive. Not only that but there’s a copy of the second first! edition of the book available on eBay UK. Or there was, I bought it!

From the preface of that second edition it turns out that I bought one of the 30,000 copies of the first edition. It’s pleasing to recall my memories of the book are relatively accurate: it has a predominantly orange cover, a computer keyboard on the front, and a longer version of the most important thing I remember, mentioned in the 2014 blog post, a key phrase something like “computers are fast rule following idiots”. It’s not quite as US-centric as I recall but maybe that’s because it’s been updated to reflect the start of the UK’s early-eighties home computing boom.

Thanks @mdhughes, your tip proved absolutely invaluable!


Just over a year ago I ran a Minecraft server on a used Windows 8 tablet converted to Windows 10. It soon became apparent it wasn’t the best solution so I looked around and eventually figured out would give my daughters and me the best and cheapest performance.

We picked a world seed, fired it up and began to explore. My youngest daughter took to it like a, er… child does to new things, and explored the world, made and built things, exploited it as far as it could go, and then pretty much left for places she could more easily interact with her friends. No great loss there.

Before their boredom set in I built a scale model of our home and let the girls furnish it – and populate it with Mollie cat and Ruby dog.

But the very best thing I did was creat a perpetual morion machine using red stone and plungers. Here’s the YouTube video, screenshot not long before I closed the hosting account:


Incidentally, if I’d not closed the account and the details hadn’t been removed from the server, Mollie & Ruby would probably be a bit hungry by now, I can’t recall if we left the doors open when we left! (There were plenty of sheep and cows and chickens around, don’t worry)!


Call this my rationale for becoming a fan of the Cleveland Browns American Football team. Or even my credentials. It’s a mangled regurgitation of words I’ve written since 2015-ish, originally intended to be posted at the start of the 2019 NFL season but left unloved in my Drafts folder until today.

In the dim and distant past (the 1980s & 90s) I was a fan of the San Francisco 49ers when they won it all a couple of times (plus the talk of a ‘threepeat’). I then aligned with the rebirth and ascendancy of the Jones’ Dallas Cowboys, and then, then… went off the boil a bit (see below). I still watched the games with friends, went to see the Scottish Claymores in the NFL Europe league, even participated in a peripheral manner in helping out an amateur youth team and helping out with a fanzine.

A new century dawned and 2004 brought a trip to Ohio, for which I’ll add detail another time. An amazing week! It started with the Wauseon Indians High School team (they beat Swanton), following up with Bowling Green (they beat SE Missouri State), and culminating in an extraordinary day in the company of the Browns (who beat the ratbirds (Ravens)!) The icing on the cake: meeting Kevin Mack (who signed a practice ball for me), Dante Lavelli and his wife, and Sam Rutigliano and his wife. Yes, I was very much over-awed (and rendered part-mute by a miserable ear infection.) And a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I’ll admit I wasn’t an actual fan of any of the teams we saw over the week, but it didn’t matter, it’s football!

Back to the jersey. It’s a #57, Clay Matthews Jr., by any measure one of Football’s all-time Linebacker greats, but likely destined never to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame (I’ve visited there too!) He seems to have been in the wrong place (Cleveland) at the wrong time (all sixteen years before he left for the last three of his career); it’s got to hurt. As I originally composed this before the 2022 update his name was in the list as a supplemental potential pick after his full eligibility expired. He didn’t make it, which bothers me more than it should.

And then bang; I got married, we had children, and my hobby time evaporated somehow.

In 2016 I needed Football in my life again. I chose the San Diego Chargers despite my interest in the Browns purely because San Diego was the city I landed in way back in 1992 on vacation. They just failed to grip my imagination.

Mid-April 2019 I found my Browns jersey again. Not just any football jersey, but one bought at beginning of my life as a dad and the end of my life as a regular American Football fan. I have to say it must have shrunk in the box, it no longer fits in quite the same way as it did when I knew why I’d bought that jersey. So yesterday evening I searched here and the Internet at large and the reason became clear. Finding it, a replica #57 jersey, brought back memories of a road trip at the start of the 2004 season.

2018 rolled round and right now in 2022, heading into my fifth season as a Browns fan, I’m looking at Reddit’s r/Browns multiple times a day (even on the toilet, but shhh…), professing nothing but attempting in my singularly-inept fashion to absorb, er… stuff. It remains an uphill task even attempting to chat with folks bringing the conversation down to my level! So I tried the #browns IRC channel! It was friendly, quiet (ok, almost unused.) I’ve also looked for podcasts to fall asleep to, thinking I’ll be able to subliminally absorb chat and regurgitate on-demand.

Yeah… no.

The summary, before I overwhelm myself with words: I felt something stirring again.

I swallowed my concern at the cost and, after the week’s trial, signed up to the ‘Pro’-level of NFL Game Pass. Sure the Browns game was blacked out here in the UK, but I caught all the plays during the 40 minute version the 30 minute lunchtime the day after. It’s simply down to me getting old and unable to function like I used to after a game starting after 1am UK time!

The 2020 and 2021 seasons were eventful and stressful to day the least, everything affected by covid and far more devastating injuries than I remember from any of my previous seasons. But maybe my nerves were on edge throughout, so it seems worse than it was. And it was bad.


Now, as the 2022 season grows and controversy follows our team everywhere (more on this another time), looking back to 2018 when this started for me, we Browns fans are currently left with no Jarvis Landry, no Jabrill Peppers and of course no Odell Beckham Junior either, no Rashard (Hollywood) Higgins, no JC Trotter, no Jamie (The Scottish Hammer) Gillan, and most important for me, no Baker Mayfield – our inspirational quarterback.

This last loss hit me more than most for many many reasons, so much so that I scoured eBay for a suitable jersey to mark the time since I became a Cleveland Browns fan. I found it, a black ‘Color Rush’ Lights Out thing stitched throughout with orange numbers and… ok, so the NFL badge at the neck is misaligned with the central ‘6’ but it doesn’t really matter it’s off-centre – so am I.

Wordle (and a few other things)

I’ve had a fairly good run of success with the daily Wordle puzzles, so much so that I felt the need to fill the void between their appearance by completing the NYT Mini and the Guardian Quick crosswords. There’s an element of daily competition and mild bragging inherent in sharing the shortest number of tries at work; it’d be even better if I ‘won’ more. Heck, I even append the animal I think my block pattern most resembles to a shared tweet, with a so-far unique #WordleAnimal hashtag.

But Wordle is not why I started writing today. I’m here because, in common with every time I’ve thought of writing a blog post for the past couple of years, I’ve nothing to write about.

Well, ok, that’s obviously untrue; there’s far too much going on for me to pick a topic and do it justice. Far too much.

Not only has Brexit come and gone since I last blogged regularly, a victory of sorts accompanied by the rampant nationalism, casual and overt racism of those somehow certain they’re on the right side of history. Not only has a Conservative government been re-elected by people who believed the lies but who still don’t seem willing to realise the erosion of their rights started 10 years ago is accelerating.

Oh, and a worldwide pandemic. One during which some governments looked after their people by making sensible choices based on sound judgment, an appreciation of historic events, and a desire to be led by the science instead of pretending to be. But instead the UK government decided to prioritise keeping businesses open, keeping borders open, spending billions on projects designed ultimately to enrich their associates. Prior to Covid they’d assured us common folks that Austerity was a thing of the past.

Yes, I know it’s not over, neither Austerity nor the pandemic.

I got my first computer in 1981, forty-something years ago, and I got online in 1997, a quarter of a century ago. It didn’t take me long, heading towards a new millennium to realise, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were entering an unparalleled golden age of access to facts. An age in which it’d be trivial to debunk lies that no-one would try to fabricate or twist truth.

And here we are, twenty-something years into this millennium. Society – I’m not sure what other words to use here because ‘civilisation’ seems a bit strong – is on what seems to me to be an inevitable decline. And yet…

My girls’ school invited us to donate to an appeal set up to help the children of Ukraine. Easy, and they freely gave their own money. And yet…

Where have the appeals been for Chechnya, for Syria, for Afghanistan, Yemen, all the other countries war has touched? I’m not saying Ukrainians don’t deserve the help, but it got me thinking. I mean, I don’t have unlimited funds to divert to charities, but yes, I’m feeling guilt I haven’t done more, whatever more is.

And the previous night, watching a documentary highlighting the heroism of the ordinary people of Chornobyl/Chernobyl, the ones who volunteered to make safe the nuclear plant. And to hear of the Russians shelling a Ukrainian nuclear plant prior to taking it over… chilling, desperate stuff. And a wife, invited to Moscow to meet the Russian premier who showed the state’s appreciation for her husband’s bravery by stating they’d be given funerals of heroes – ur her husband wasn’t yet dead. I’m just hoping now that the Russian state isn’t too big to fail, that the uncaring nature of such governments breaks apart with such shockwaves it alters the minds of those who see it as a viable method to govern.

But such a thing is reliant on reception by open-minded institutions run by people unafraid of their electorate learning that an collective absence of ability should have precluded them from ever reaching any level of public office. (I’m not about to say level of public service, there’s no evidence selflessness in the UK Conservative party.)

I saw a tweet earlier today, a photo or a still frame of an obviously northern English town. It was captioned something like “Sheffield, 5th of March.” The detail is unimportant. What is important though, I eventually figured the link to an early nineteen eighties film about a nuclear war. One in which an unimaginably large number of nuclear weapons killed an unimaginably larger number of people. ‘Threads’ it’s called. The clips I’ve seen show the terror of ordinary people dying in the streets, the shops, their workplaces – and in their homes, thinking that piling furniture up to form the rudimentary refuges government propaganda said would protect them singularly failed against the fury of…

I can’t help thinking that whilst all this is going on, the UK government is trying to pass or actually passing legislation that parallels the chilling effects of the Russian Kremlin. You know, like the one that says if you’re convicted of alarming someone whilst protesting you could go to prison for 15 years. I wish I was making this up, and I wish it wasn’t just one of the most recent attempts to cling on to power.

I see striking parallels with Russia of old, before Communism and the Berlin Wall ostensibly fell. Striking parallels with Trump’s Russian-led, propaganda-driven populist sleep-waking into totalitarianism. And here we are in the UK with evidence emerging that a sizeable proportion of Conservative MPs and the party itself accepted Russian money and apparently didn’t care to ask the obvious question ‘why me?’


Yeah, it’s another unfocused rant isn’t it. Perhaps this is why I’ve not written anything recently. Damned if I’m going to proofread this, I thought it’d be a bit cathartic but all I’ve got now is a desire to get hold of some potassium iodide.


Maybe I’ll add a few extra things which have gained deserved resurgence in popularity in recent times. Such as the resistance to the seeming inevitability of climate change.

Bowling Green Falcons football

Reddit’s u/OptimisticRealist__ posted something about ‘Coach Prime’ and it reminded me what I wanted to talk about (that particular day was an odd, odd day.) This post is an edited version of that Reddit comment.

Like most of us English I’ve never been exposed to US College football so I was surprised by what happened after I spent time trying (and failing!) to absorb some of the talk in the r/Browns subreddit about our possible choices in the 2022 NFL College player Draft.

I’d decided a few days ago to pick a team. It’s… (don’t laugh) the Bowling Green State University (BGSU) Falcons. They play in the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) East division. I say don’t laugh because I could have easily picked national powerhouse Ohio State and get more news and more chance to see a BGSU player play in the NFL, couldn’t I!

There are a lot of parallels in today’s BGSU with the main reasons I became a Browns fan. A rebuilding team, a young team, and they hosted the only college game I ever saw live (during the 2004 trip I keep mentioning in r/Browns.)

The biggest issues I have though will be obvious to most of you:

• There’s not much film out there, and I can’t see a way of guaranteeing I get to see games live on TV.

• From what I’ve read there aren’t too many chances to see BGSU players in the draft or even bowl games.

Issues partially addressed:

• I found the Unofficial BGSU Sports Archive (a YouTube video channel) - but I’d love to know if there are other recent video archives. (Not bootleg as such, but I’m open to suggestions.)

• I’ve seen ESPN+ might have games but I’ve absolutely no idea if BGSU is on the UK channel’s radar. Not expecting help here, I might need to contact the channel directly (and hope I get a helpful customer service rep.)

• I’ve subscribed to Reddit's r/BGSUFB (and introduced myself) and r/MidAmerican in the hope I’ll gain a few insights before the season kickoff.

So that’s it. Apart from not remembering the team’s uniform colours 17 years after my visit (but being pleasantly surprised they’re orange, brown and white) tsk!


In March 1981 the Sinclair ZX81 computer launched. I bought one at the end of the year.

Also at the end of 1981, the BBC Micro computer launched. I bought one of those a year or two later (after using a Commodore VIC-20.)

I used the Beeb all my spare time, programming in BBC Basic, Forth, Pascal, 6502 Assembler, and created a number of electronic devices briefly referred to elsewhere in this blog… It was an awesome time, before computing devices were commonplace, ubiquitous, and thus taken for granted.

It’s now March 2021, 40 years after my first computer arrived. Yesterday, after playing with the simulator on my iPhone I ordered a BBC micro:bit computer (and a third-party STEM electronics sensors/development board) for delivery this very afternoon.

Sure having only a 5×5 LED matrix and beeper means it’s limited without external devices, sure it’s not an Arduino microcontroller or Raspberry Pi general purpose computer. But I can write and test micro:bit programs on my phone – no external keyboard or mouse or screen are needed, no Internet connection is required, no cassette tapes or diskettes or memory cards are necessary.

It’s already getting me back to the feeling I had when I started computing, but it’s all just… easier.


(Originally composed – if that’s what one can call this – in June 2019.)

Everything below the line is presented without comment; it’s entirely unnecessary:

Someone [I believe on Quora] asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”