London 1999 Trip Report
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Updated to Sept. 1, 1999
I'm dedicating this eclipse and Babbage trip report to the two of my e-mail contacts in England who helped make my trip to London/Penzance such a happy time. They are Theresa Knott and Dimitris Kalderis.
- Theresa wondered if Americans ever heard of a train ;-)
and recommended the Eclipse Special train to Penzance and back
(and is a chemistry student in London)
- Dimitris suggested the Bed&Breakfast that was "affordable" :-)
"affordable" by London standards :-(
(and studies chemical pollution at the University of Leeds)
London Trip Report
Babbage Difference Engine
August 11, 1999 Total Solar Eclipse
Table of Contents
Staying in London
"Affordable" meant 45 pounds ($72) per night,
The next level up B&B - with private toilet and shower, seemed to be 70 pounds per night. Being thrifty, and having fun with the students, I remained at the cheap place.
- including taxes and a "continental" breakfast,
- one toilet and shower per floor,
- very easy walking access to Victoria (underground) station,
- and lots of continental students visiting London, and who are saving money by staying 3 and 4 to a room.
Next time I will bring ear-plugs. Doors slammed all night long.
The Brits are justly afraid of fire, and insist on having extra doors (fire doors) at the entry to any hall (and seemingly every possible location). All of those folks, sharing rooms or not, seemed to visit the "water closet" frequently all night long. You could follow them through the house, slam, slam slam to the "WC" then slam, slam, slam back to their rooms.
Maybe the extra 25 pounds per night for a more usual B&B would be worth it. ??? We will see next time.
Babbage Difference Engine #2
Got to London Aug. 4, at 6:25 A.M. - after a 10 hour non stop flight from San Francisco, CA, not exactly fresh and clean, but ready for adventure!
Decided that I better check into the B&B first and try to look and smell better. Got the underground to Victoria Station, and found the Rosedene Bed & Breakfast
Rosedene Hotel, 119 Ebury Street, London SW1 SW1W 9QU, firstname.lastname@example.org 011 44 171-7304872 recommended by Dimitris Kalderis - had to remove the 0 in front of the 0171 - Central Reservations number: (171) 580-4005
Really close - 3 city blocks Victoria Station.
It is 9:00 - What to do - well, I hope the Brits are tolerant of unwashed travelers! Headed for the Museum of Science and Industry to see Babbage Difference Engine # 2 - and to let Doron Swade (a curator there) know that his 4:30 appointment is ready 6 hour early.
- there was a fax from the Museum of Science and Industry that I had an appointment to see Doron Swade at 4:30 - excuse me - 16:30. The B&B was impressed, and so was I :-)
- my room would not be ready till about 13:00
I love the London Underground/Tube - it works, maps are clear, and there are plenty of them, many helpful people, ... The basic fare for most of the city center is 1 pound 40 pence (about $2.25 U.S.) and an "all day" pass (after 9:30 A.M.) for 3 pounds 40.
The Museum of Science and Industry in London is definitely a world class museum. Directory from Handout ( 246 K Bytes )
Got to second floor of the Museum of Science and Industry and was about to ask questions of the 2 engineers working adding the new printer section of the Babbage Difference Engine #2. Just then Doron Swade (whom I had seen speak at Stanford and at Mountain View, California) appeared with what appeared to be a guest family for a tour of the machine. Ah - a chance for a free expert tour! I introduced myself to Doron and asked if I could "tag along". Much to my surprise he asked me to wait a few minutes.
It turned out that his visitors were a family from Redmond, Washington, and the father (Nathan Myhrvold) was Chief Technologist of Microsoft, and a former student of Steven Hawking, who is paying for completion of the Printing section of the Engine. Also, he is paying for the construction of a complete second copy of the Engine (with printing section) for installation in his home. Interesting - just some average looking folks that seemed interested in the machine.
Photo of Babbage Difference Engine #2 from Technical Manual ( 214 K Bytes )
Photo of Babbage Printer (being added) ( 45 K Bytes ) Babbage Engine is on the right
Photo of Babbage Printer Overall with Richard Horton ( 58 K Bytes ) (as of Aug 10, 1999)
One of 210 carry levers in the Babbage Difference Engine # 2
Over the next three days I got LOTS of exposure to the Engine and the Engine staff, Doron Swade, Reg Crick, and Richard Horton. Absolutely Wonderful :-)) They also provided to me the following documents about the Engine that they had written and that I have placed on the WWW:
and an updated (as constructed) timing diagram.
- Technical Description - 147 pages text and 25 diagrams
- INSTRUCTION MANUAL - how to use the machine
Since then I have placed my own - How to Initialize the Machine - on the web.
Also went to see
- HMS Belfast - stayed 2 hours in the engine room examining, listening, reading, ... Absolutely great. Lots of background for battles - strategic situation, tactical situation, sequence of events, who could see what, sounds of action, ... You could scramble through most of the ship.
- Golden Hind - watched a visiting rigger, Matthew Otto, making a "mouse", a big lump in a line (rope). Interesting, he knows the West Coast U.S. "tall ships", lots of history and ship lore. Interesting how much time folks are willing to spend talking with interested tourists.
- "Art" - a play about three guys, one of whom buys a "modern art" canvas - really funny
- Christi's - the famous auction house - the branch near South Kensington Station, watch the audience of poor and homeless appearing folks bidding between 100 and 1,500 British pounds for silver nick nacks for your dining room table.
- Spink's - to maybe buy a British gold coin, the Britannia This is even more interesting and POSH than Harrods, and Fortnum&Mason "where the Queen shops"
- Clink - debtor's prison - life was tough, and maybe shortened if your debts did not get paid, or other non capital offenses. You were expected to pay for
- - putting chains onto you
- - food, clothing and medicine that you might need to keep you alive
- - taking chains off of you, you should be so lucky
and the guards used this money as part of their wages.
- Michael Faraday museum - basement of the British Institution
- Don't bother.
- There is virtually no useful description of what you are looking at
- - just like the average American museum :-(
- Only an expert can appreciate.
- The British Institution seems VERY cold to the casual drop-in visitor.
It was interesting in a sense. Things were REALLY PRIMITIVE by today's standards. Faraday discovered a relationship between electric current and magnetism, and made primitive electric motors and generators about 150 years ago, about the time Babbage was trying to make his computer. Faraday discovered all this with out voltmeters, Tektronics oscilloscopes, electric lights, plug in anything, ...
Later in the century, other inventors would use Faraday's discoveries to bring us
- Generators and widely distributed cheap electricity
- Electric lights, electric motors
- Ignition for gasoline engines
- telegraph, telephone, phonograph
- Tektronics oscilloscopes ;-)
- and so many other things we take for granted
- Buckingham Palace - the Queen is vacationing in Scotland, and the tourists are helping to pay for repair for a fire at Windsor Castle. Quite a "pad". The guides are temps (the queen is thrifty :-).
I had a wonderful time asking off the wall questions - like "Where is the Chamberlain with the Big Ax or Stick? I saw something like that in the movie 'Mozart'".
Nobody sassed back, all tried to be helpful. Some knew.
- RAF Museum at Collindale (from Euston Station on the North line) Lots of interesting British and German war planes, (with good descriptions :-) and some GREAT hands on examples of aeronautics, lift, drag, etc. There is a British Bloodhound Surface to Air missile with very little description :-( on the front yard.
London is a GREAT place to visit (barring the expensive housing). The Museums are FOURTH generation. I think of the museum generations a little like the computer generations
- "1st generation" - materials spread out in a poor manner, some description
- "2nd generation" - organized, lots of small text, hard to read even for the person standing right in front of the sign
- "3rd generation" - NO Text (typical American museum) - reaction to 2nd generation - few specialists had the fortitude to read the tiny text - and many visitors were grade school kids who were more interested in getting exercise than reading small text
- "4th generation" - BIG Colored Text - You and others can read it from 8 feet away without your glasses. This is now typical in British museums. I love it :-)
Photo of 4th Generation London museum display ( 43 K Bytes )
August 11th Total Solar Eclipse
The eclipse (as viewed from Penzance, England) was basically rained and clouded out. But read on - it was fun!
And an eclipse web site
At about midnight, between Aug 10 and 11th, I got on a "First Great Western Trains" "23:34 Eclipse Special" at Paddington Station. This was one of a number of "specials" going to Penzance and back.
This was a "1st class" car, the seats were nice fabric, and leaned back a little for snoozing. The center isle was offset so that there were 2x2 facing each other on one side of the isle, and 1x1 facing each other on the other side. The six people in this little unit can easily talk together :-)
The train started out (on time!) and the adventure was beginning.
My seat companions were four young accounts who had known each other in college and still adventured some together, and a solicitor who seemed to be a long standing friend. We were soon sharing cookies, wine, munchies, and talking a lot. One of them was working for Costco, an American discount firm that is branching out into England. He had just come back from Los Angles - and the others were quite familiar with the U.S. also. The solicitor had attended his sister's wedding on the U.S. West Coast a few months ago.
We (certainly I) had a great time. It also turned out that our 1st class tickets entitled us to get all the free soft drinks and munchies we could carry away from the bar. There was a little down side - this was not a "non-stop" service, we stopped at 6 towns on the way to Penzance.
OH - we are stopping in the country!?! There is an announcement that there is trouble ahead and we will be stopping for a while. In a few minutes, there is an announcement that the trouble is in THIS train. In a few minutes, there is an announcement that the trouble is in the train ahead. In a few minutes we are rolling along just fine. Strange, but we are rolling along.
About 3:00 A.M. we got a little tired and started snoozing. Later, when I awoke briefly, there was an old lady sleeping in the isle. She woke, and said that she works for Virgin Rail, (same ownership as Virgin Air!) and was on a free pass. Back to sleep.
The sun came up about 5:30 and we saw an almost continuous overcast of clouds. Just as the weather agencies had predicted - drat! We rolled through the old tin mining part of Cornwall - of Watt Steam engine fame. Some old structures - mine heads with big cable wheels - big chimneys - were visible but looked long abandoned.
Very green, lots of cows, and campers and tents in fields. The eclipse is a big thing!
At 6:30 we are in Penzance - trying to get off the train we have to step over some heavily muscled shaved headed guy who is unconscious on the floor, his head surrounded by vomit. My companions figure he had been "shooting up" in the nearby toilet.
Off the train and into Penzance - looking for breakfast - the stores are ALL CLOSED - here it is - the big day of the decade - hungry visitors wandering the stone cobbled streets, and the restaurants are ALL CLOSED.
I was incredulous - I can see being cool and not getting excited, but totally ignoring the commercial possibilities seemed ...
The plan was to start walking east to get into position to see the moon's shadow coming across the bay at 11:10 - if the clouds parted -
On the way we saw a large chain grocery store that was open. Maybe it has a restaurant? Yes! We wait in the long line, and get a plenty adequate breakfast.
More hiking east along the coast. Soon we are almost opposite an island that my companions assured me was the eclipse TV center for the BBC.
We sit and wait - about an hour before the total part of the eclipse, it starts to rain - out comes the umbrellas. This is no fun - we remembered passing a bar about 50 meters away and - there was just room for us to squeeze in :-)
We watch the television and there is our island, right there on the screen, and right out the window! Smiling faces under umbrellas, we know the feeling. We help support the bar (financially) :-)
About 15 minutes before totality, there is an announcement that the bar folks want to see the eclipse also - get out.
The rain has stopped - but the fates are not kind - no hole in the clouds.
It is getting visibly less bright - no need to squint - I decide to take a picture of the scene, and while getting the camera going, it is getting darker fast. I clicked the camera, - and the flash went off - 400 speed film, it can't be that dark! Yes - there are flashes all along the beach - the street lights of Penzance 2 miles away are coming on -
HEY - THIS IS GETTING SPOOKY - REALLY DARK - there is a little light coming from some low clouds maybe 30 miles away - a little like a 4 watt night light in a very large dark room.
WOW - NO WONDER THE ANCIENTS TOOK NOTICE - NO KIDDING!
The city lights of Penzance about 3 miles away are twinkling brightly. If it was not for the glow from the low clouds maybe 30 miles away, I am not sure that I could have seen my hand in front of my face.
Then after the predicted 2 minutes of totality, it started to get light quite quickly.
After about 15 seconds you could probably read larger print in a newspaper, then it quickly got brighter, and Brighter, and BRIGHTER, ... In less than a minute you can comfortably read or see anything - and the sun must be still about 95% covered. We head back to Penzance.
Maybe 15 minutes after totality, there was a break in most of the clouds, and you could see the sun with a large part (?70%?) occluded by the moon - using the handy eye protection of course.
We walk back to Penzance. My companions want food, and I want to find some hemp sash cord. We split temporarily. Some U.S. Middle Ages "re-enactors" have heard that they should have hemp sash cord for the spark (burning glow) the matchlock rifles and cannons they shoot. Cotton cord is widely available, but not hemp sash cord. ("Matchlock" came before the flint lock sparking mechanism of the American Revolutionary War service). Neither London nor Penzance had such "old fashoned" material available.
... After our adventures, we head back to the station area. Oddly, there is no riot, no disorder, there is a moving queue for the 13:05? train, and the beginnings of a queue for our 13:25 train. Soon we are on our train - it leaves on time - and we retrace our path. ... The adventure is over - not completely successful, but well worth it. :-)
Interesting Railroad Bridge seen on the way back.