At the Computer Farm

Jim Austin's IBM BlueGene/L

Jim Austin’s IBM BlueGene/L

Jim Austin, who teaches neural computing at York University, lives on a farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. At the top of the hill, behind the farmhouse, are four large sheds that shelter the Jim Austin Computer Collection. He’s been collecting obsolete computers for nearly thirty years, and has more than 1000 machines.

‘This IBM mainframe was $8.7 million in 1983,’ he told me when I went to see them. ‘Which in today’s money is $24 million. I mean, that’s astronomical. And they’re scrapped after four years. That’s it. Scrap.’ He points to another. ‘The Fujitsu supercomputer, I think it depreciated at £16,000 a week for three years. Then it was zero.’ Behind the IBM and the Fujitsu are more machines: DECs, Wangs. ‘I just take them all home. I preserve them. I just collect them, because I like them. And I’ve got the sheds, so I just put them in.’ More »

Osborne’s Ambition

The chancellor’s Autumn Statement is as political and obscure as we might expect. A bit of spending here and a bit of cutting there. A tilt at the rich and corporations which, except for the change to stamp duty, won’t do much. The ‘banding’ of stamp duty is a kind of mansion tax which in principle would be desirable, if it didn’t mean that the government has yet another reason to ration housing. (More houses means cheaper houses, which means a lower return on stamp duty.) More »

Hospital Decay

View from Duncryne Hill over Loch Lomond

View from Duncryne Hill over Loch Lomond

The Vale of Leven Hospital Public Inquiry report was published on 24 November. At least 34 patients had been killed by Clostridium difficile in 2007 and 2008 in the hospital in Alexandria, a small town at the foot of Loch Lomond. The report tells one horror story after another about bad nursing, ignorance about infection and management incompetence. The failings beggar belief. More »

In Syntagma Square

Two hundred Syrians are camped on the pavement outside the Greek parliament in Athens. For two weeks, 150 of them have been on hunger strike. The interior ministry has handed out leaflets: ‘You have nothing to gain if you remain on Syntagma Square. You should follow the only way to a life with dignity. You should apply for asylum.’ The minister repeated the proposal on Tuesday, adding he would ask northern European countries to take them in instead, though he expected the answer would be no. More »

On the Bus

Ian Nairn (left) and Gavin Stamp (right) on the Nairn's London bus

Ian Nairn (left) and Gavin Stamp (right) on the Nairn’s London bus

Nairn’s London has just been reissued by Penguin, with an afterword by Gavin Stamp. On Sunday, the Routemaster bus that appears on the cover of the 1966 edition (registration number CUV 217C; Ian Nairn leaning jauntily from the cab), took fifty of Nairn’s devotees on a tour of his London. More »

Cameron’s Migration ‘Squeeze’

Under pressure from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in February 2003, Tony Blair conceded that the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain was too high and pledged to halve it by the following September. The promise was widely derided, but Blair had done his homework: officials had assessed the impact of Labour’s 2002 Asylum Act, the closure of the Sangatte asylum centre near Calais and other measures to deter refugees from coming to the UK. When September’s figures were announced, the target had been met.

David Cameron’s target of cutting net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ was first made before the 2010 election, then spelled out – ‘no ifs, no buts’ – in April 2011. A few weeks ago Theresa May called it an ‘objective’ the government was ‘working’ towards. But the nearest they ever got was two years ago, when net migration fell to 154,000. Since then it’s risen to 260,000, higher than when Labour left office. Cameron’s mistake was to assume that net migration to and from the rest of the EU, over which he has little control, would stay where it was in 2011 (under 80,000). The Home Office focused its attention on non-EU migrants – students, family members and skilled workers – all now subject to tighter rules. What Cameron didn’t foresee was that net EU migration would almost double. Or as he put it last week, ‘our squeeze in one area has been offset by a bulge in another.’ More »

Ferguson’s Rage

The rioting in Ferguson, Missouri in recent days and the mass demonstrations in 170 other US cities are testament to a deeply felt rage. That rage boils over in moments like this, when reality runs up against the continuous denials of black people’s humanity in a nation whose creed of fair and impartial justice is a sham. From its beginnings, the scales of justice in the United States have been tipped against blacks – who are often, too often, presumed guilty – and in favour of whites who are presumed innocent of nearly all matters related to race. More »

On Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen Photo © Murray Close

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen Photo © Murray Close

Beauty, acting, stardom: we do and don’t want to think it all takes work. Jennifer Lawrence is a gift to both points of view: a disciplined pro with a bow and arrow, who really did skin that squirrel for Winter’s Bone, and who already at 24 has three Best Actress Oscar nominations (and a win) behind her, she’s also the pointedly low-maintenance everygirl who drinks too much and throws up, trips over her dress when accepting her Academy Award, announces on the red carpet that her strapless Dior dress is giving her ‘armpit vaginas’. Stephen Colbert riffed on her reputation for earthy authenticity when he suggested that, like Katniss Everdeen, her character in the Hunger Games movies, she was plucked from obscurity to become an eventual role model, and that Kentucky, where she was born and grew up, is ‘a little District 12-y in places’. More »

Beware Bouncers

Ossie Gooding was a fast bowler from Barbados who played cricket for the army and for Hampshire’s second eleven in the 1960s. Then he played club cricket for Ashford, and, until he died in 2002, for Harold Pinter’s team, the Gaieties. He worked for the Home Office and when they moved his job to Newcastle, Pinter bought Gooding’s train tickets to London so he could play as often as possible. For many years, a Pinter XI took on the Guardian at a ground at Gunnersbury in West London. At the 1981 match, a Guardian batsman disparaged Gooding and his bowling. What he said, exactly, Gooding never let on, but it must have been bad: Gooding wasn’t vengeful or quick tempered but his next ball to that batsman was a bouncer which hit his cheek. Teeth and jaw were broken, there was a lot of blood on the pitch, the batsman went off to hospital – ‘retired hurt’ entered into the score book. More »

The Iranian Nuclear Deadlock Continues

In perhaps the least surprising news of the year, Iran and the P5+1 failed to reach an agreement in Vienna on Monday. The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) want Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment activities; Iran wants sanctions to be lifted. More »

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