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Archive for the ‘past’ Category

an industry of hornbeam

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I’m walking through our garden. There’s normal garden stuff: trees, shrubs, patio, table and chairs, a washing line. Not much lawn but that’s down to the chickens.

But all about there are also the signs that an (untidy?) craftsman works here.

A cleaving brake in the veg bed, a pole lathe that is fighting a losing battle with Boston Ivy, a shave horse sheltering under the jasmine, a persuader that has rolled under the rhubarb, chopping blocks next to the path, a saw horse that has perhaps seen better days.


All around there are remnants, waste, bits in need of a purpose: saw dust, wood shavings, cleaved sticks, trimmed ends, rejected twigs.

There are finished products too. Gate hurdles to protect the crops from pecking chickens and stampeding puppies. Woven hurdles screening compost and covering gaps in the fence. Beanpoles and pea sticks in the vegetable beds. Oak shingles on the wood shed and some spares in it. Firewood and kindling. Charcoal in bags in the shed.


It’s a strange sight in this urban garden although the neighbours are equally baffled by the chickens and even the normal horticultural stuff.

It stops people in their tracks when they stumble across Iain at work in the woods. We don’t think of woodlands as places of work, except maybe in the sense of industrial scale forestry in Canadian pine forests. Finding a lone guy with a pile of sticks and a billhook is a curiousity.

Our wood has ponds the agent claimed are ancient earthworks. Whatever the truth of that, it is unmistakable from the shape of the trees that sometime last century someone else worked these woods.

Woods were places of work and tools just as farms and cities are.

Written by Karen

July 23rd, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Posted in craft,past,woods,work


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None of my grandparents are still alive. Helen died when my mum was little,  Walter when I was just out of university and May & Tom shortly after I got married. I have some things that might traditionally be considered my inheritance from them, although some of the things might seem a little odd.

From Walter I have cigar boxes, tins, wooden boxes, a stack of leather skins and offcuts, old curtains, and photos. From May & Tom I have a meat slicer, pie tins, knifes, a Mrs Beeton, a stone rabbit, a red honeysuckle plant, jewellery, and photos.

Walter was stubborn and eccentric.  A big food lover. So much of a storyteller that we don’t know how much of the family history is true. He was a cobbler, creative, a good craftsman but not such a good businessman.

Helen I never knew. She was a matron. Mum’s memories make her sound gentle and caring. She was able to live with Walter so must have had super-human tolerance and patience. And thrift.

May was an organiser. She had a document tabulating all the holidays they had even taken, with destinations, dates and travelling companions. Food cupboards had lists of their contents pinned to the back of the doors. Food prices at different stores were noted in a book kept by her armchair. Household accounts were monitored with double entry book-keeping. She’d been a civil servant before getting married. They let her stay on so long as she kept using her maiden name but her working life came to end once my dad was born. A whole lot of pent-up organisational ability got directed towards running the home like a miniature government department. I recognised a lot in Hallie’s My Grandmother the IA presentation.

Tom was very different to May. He needed a few cigarettes a day, friendly chats and no office politics at work. That was about it for his demands from life.

So other things I may have inherited are pleasure in a simple life, in organising things and in crafting things. And probably a bit more from Walter than I prefer to notice.

Written by Karen

May 16th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

it seems that IT projects are the same as ever

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One of the themes I’m always interested is the way some things seem new but have clear echoes in the past. I was fascinated (and slightly horrified) to read this history of computing article: Factory concepts and practices in software development (Open Library).

Most of the examples are describing problems with IT projects in the 1960s but they could as easily be applied to the projects I’ve worked on over the last decade. The table summarising aspects of the  1968 Nato Report on Software Engineering Problems (PDF) is scarily applicable.

  • Lack of understanding in system requirements on the part of customers and designers.
  • Large gaps between estimates of costs and time with actual expenditures due to poor estimating techniques, failure to allow time for changes in requirements, and division of programming tasks into blocks before the divisions of the system are well-enough understood to do this properly.
  • Large variations, as much as 26:1 in one study, in programmers’ productivity levels.
  • Difficulty of dividing labor between design and production (coding), since design-type decisions must still be made in coding.
  • Difficulty in monitoring progress in a software project, since “program construction is not always a simple progression in which each act of assembly represents a distinct forward step.”
  • Rapid growth in the size of software systems.
  • Poor communication among groups working on the same project, exacerbated by too much uncoordinated or unnecessary information, and a lack of automation to handle necessary information.
  • Large expense of developing on-line production control tools.
  • Difficulty of measuring key aspects of programmer and system performance.
  • A tradition among software developers of not writing systems “for practical use,” but trying to write new and better systems, so that they are always combining research, development, and production in a single project, which then makes it difficult to predict and manage.
  • Rapid growth in the need for programmers and insufficient numbers of adequately trained and skilled programmers.
  • Difficulty of achieving sufficient reliability (reduced errors and error tolerance) in large software systems.
  • Dependence of software on hardware, which makes standardization of software difficult across different machines.
  • Lack of inventories of reusable software components to aid in the building of new programs.
  • Software maintenance costs often exceeding the cost of the original system development.

Source: Naur and Randell.

Must remember to ask my dad about his  early programming experiences and see if this fits.

Written by Karen

May 27th, 2009 at 6:09 am

Posted in past

crime documentary that avoids the usual moral panic

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The Violent Highway is unusual for TV programmes about violent crime. Instead of an unquestioning “everything is getting worse” angle, the documentary instead looks at crime past and present, through the device of a single London street.

“the film recreates key incidents taken from 300 years of muggings, wife-beatings, pub brawls and serial killings. Historians, psychologists, residents of The Highway and former gang members discuss whether we are more or less violent than we used to be, and what this street can reveal about the violence in all of us.”

At one point the narrator starts the usual hackneyed point about how violent modern TV and video games are, but this only leads into Steven Pinker pointing out how we take pleasure in the violence in  Greek and Shakespearean tragedy, and in murder mysteries too.

BBC Two Programmes – The Violent Highway

Written by Karen

May 22nd, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Bruce Sterling in interactions magazine

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I’m never quite sure I’ve ‘got’ what Bruce Sterling is getting at…but there’s always something in his non-fiction writing that I feel the need to capture, come back to, mull over. I never read his sci-fi, I picked up one of his novels in the charity box at work and flicked through it. The prose didn’t seem like something I wanted to spend my time with. I’m not sure if that was hasty.

Still, his article in interactions magazine has the usual hints at possible wisdom. Or maybe just comforting statements of the obvious, although he almost certainly doesn’t intend them to be comforting!

“Below the professional level of for-profit publishing, the subculture of science fiction fans exploited early, DIY duplication technologies: Gestetners, hectograph. There were letter-writing campaigns, amateur press associations, local writers groups, regional science fiction conventions galore. One might even argue that contemporary Web culture looks and behaves much like 1930s science fiction fandom, only digitized and globalized.”

“Digital media is much more frail and contingent than print media. I rather imagine that people will be reading H.P. Lovecraft-likely the ultimate pulp-magazine science fiction writer-long after today’s clumsy, bug-ridden MMORPGs are as dead as the Univac.”

“Experience designers are a tiny group of people with a radically universalized prospectus”

“I scarcely know what to do about this. As Charles Eames said, design is a method of action. Literature is a method of meaning and feeling. Hearteningly, I do know how I feel about this situation. I even have some inkling of what it means”

via interactions magazine.

Written by Karen

April 27th, 2009 at 6:38 am

Posted in digital,future,past,ucd

bah humbug

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My colleagues and I are getting chided for not having put Christmas decorations on our bank of desks. I sit with the finance team at the moment and some have suggested the absence of Christmas cheer reflects on our personalities.

Personally I’m just a traditions pedant. Decorations are for Yuletide/Twelvetide not Advent. They go up on Xmas eve and come down on Twelfth Night (perhaps under the eye of the Lord of Misrule?).

Just as it is bad luck to leave them up after that, it is bad luck to bring evergreen decorations into the house earlier. I suppose technically you could get away with tinsel but not the tree.

In spite of PW’s new career choice, we’re not getting a Christmas tree (although he might swipe us some mistletoe). I’m going to bring a potted twisted hazel in and hang some baubles on it.

(random Christmas related fact: today is Poinsettia Day)

Written by Karen

December 12th, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Posted in tradition

found objects of industry

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I love Found Objects of Industry for the folding beds and benches, the industrial labs and assorted paraphenalia. But mostly for this cabinet with the little drawers.

Yet another I want.

Written by Karen

July 6th, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Posted in past

book: How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson

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Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson follows up How to be Idle with How to be Free in which he exhorts us to live simpler lives, get off the capitalist hamster wheel and indulge in a bit of anarchism. Jolly medieval peasants seem to feature a lot. As reviewers have pointed out, he does seem to forget an awful lot of the nasty bits about the medieval period.

And for Hodgkinson, governments are responsible for wars and taxes but he conveniently ignores the NHS (which is the bit that vexes me about all this self-sufficiency stuff…. I’d still quite like having highly trained medical staff around and I don’t think they want to be paid in turnips or with a nice tune on the ukelele).

I felt compelled to follow this up with Medieval Lives by Terry Jones, which evened things out a bit with a healthy dose of corruption, pestilance and violence.

Written by Karen

July 2nd, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Posted in books,happiness,past

100 oldest companies

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Undoubtedly family business represents the most lasting type of business. The expert in family business, Professor Willian O’Hara, in one of his books mentioned about family business the following: “Before the multinational corporation, there was family business. Before the Industrial Revolution, there was family business. Before the enlightenment of Greece and the empire of Rome, there was family business.”

from The 100 Oldest Companies in the World

The oldest UK company in the list is Brooke’s Mill in Yorkshire which dates back to 1541. It is still owned by the same family but is no longer a wool mill, nor do the buildings date to 1541. These days it is a “Heritage Office Park”. The name, family and location persist but everything else has changed.

Written by Karen

June 23rd, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in old knowledge,past

more information than Shakespeare’s friends

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On an average weekday the New York Times contains more information than any contemporary of Shakespeare’s would have acquired in a lifetime. – Anonymous

What does this mean? It seems to be comparing apples with oranges. A reader of the NY Times doesn’t acquire all the information in the NY Times in any meaningful sense.

We have access to far more information, and much more readily, than any contemporary of Shakespeare. But the information we have actually acquired? And understood? And been able to fit into the bigger scheme of things? Or indeed remember a day later?

Written by Karen

June 3rd, 2008 at 11:51 am

Posted in past