Inventions

Calling it out

If you're as old as me, you'll remember the days before the internet ... and social media.

Those days when if we wanted to contact people, we would have to write a letter, take the trouble to meet them in person, or phone them.

Today, though, we can post something online, send a 'direct message' on one of the social media platforms and get almost instantaneous replies.

It's like magic! 

Well I think it is anyway.

When social media first came around I was a bit dubious. Did I really want to tell the world what I was up to? Did I really want my opinion out there? Did I want to get involved in conversations not just with people I know, but perhaps with those I don't?

Well ... the answer was 'YES'... although I determined from the start that I would try to be wise.

Social media has, of course, been accused of creating the downfall of humanity, or something similar.

But actually I've realised that social media is only the vehicle for misbehaviour and vile, and even evil. It allows us to be more vocal, to be nasty ... especially for those who want to do so while 'hiding' in plain sight. 

Social mediaBut as this quote reminds us ... it's not as simple as that!

And it's down to us all to call it out.

Take, for instance, the recent racist vile and vitriol posted online ... on Twitter primarily ... by those who blamed certain individual footballers for losing the England football team the Euro 2021 Cup.

So, a few of those most excellent young sportsmen missed a penalty which meant that the Italians won the game, and picked up the trophy.

In the past those racists who pointed out that these brilliant sportsmen are not white might have spouted their evil to like minded friends in the pub. But instead they posted on Twitter. Which thankfully resulted in lots of 'calling out' .. and hopefully a ban from that social media platform. Hopefully for life!

Posting on social media in public IS just like having your face on a big poster for all to see. And if you think you can behave immorally and unethically, and with hatred and offence, then think again!

You will be called out and there are masses of us online now who are determined that the social media platforms will NOT be hijacked by the 'Nasty'.

When I first started using social media, there were lots of people who doubted my sanity and thought I was going to the 'dark side' of life.  Social media was an evil place and we should all stay clear. If we didn't want to be corrupted, we should just not go there.

But I quickly learned that it didn't have to be like that. We don't have to exclude ourselves from the magic of social media. In fact, we can be part of the solution, rather than the problem or allowing the problems to be perpetuated.

I've seen so much amazing stuff, so much positivity, on social media. Prayer circles for sick friends, positive quotes and comments for people to be inspired by, encouragement for folk who are having a hard time. Certainly during the COVID19 pandemic, and lockdown, social media was a bit of a saviour for a lot of us, keeping us in touch with our family and friends when we could not meet. 

So ... as for me ... when I'm on social media I try to block the negative. I report when I see bad stuff, and I try to stay away from the controversial discussions. I certainly don't welcome them into my life and I don't go looking for the bad, but I do try to share the 'good'. It's part of what I'm trying to do with this daily blog, which I daily also post to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I'm mentioning all  this today because apparently it was on July 15 2006 that Twitter was publicly launched!

Yes, it wasn't that long ago and yet these days Twitter and the other social media platforms - Facebook, Instagram, and now Tik Tok and other newer inventions - are just part of our every day life. And some of us can't imagine life without it!

When Twitter came along, with its 140 character limit, I thought I'd never get it. 

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I'm a bit verbose!

But now I love it. These days I get up to 280 characters to say what I want to say, but for me each tweet is a bit of challenge.

Although the first 'tweet' or message was sent in March 2006 by the company's CEO Jack Dorsey, (who created the platform with Noah GlassBiz Stone, and Evan Williams) it was publicly launched in July and it soon caught on. By 2012, more than 100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day,  and Twitter was handling an average of 1.6 billion search queries every day.

Today (actually as of January this year)  Twitter  has in excess of 350million active users!

It's a powerful platform.

Yes, of course those who run these huge companies have a duty of care to ensure the platform is not abused, and to ensure those who do abuse others online are dealt with, but it is also down to us, the users, to ensure we behave online, and to call out those who don't.

If I want social media to be a healthy place, I need to be part of the community which encourages goodness online.

And I suggest that if we all did a bit of that, the world (and that includes social media) will be a better place!

 


Anyone for Tennis?

Right now I'm spending a bit more time than usual watching sport on the TV.

No - I'm not talking about the football (or if you're reading this in the States, the 'soccer').

The Euro football tournament is  currently happening and of course, it's all over the British media, especially now because the English team will face up to Italy in the final at Wembley stadium on Sunday this weekend!

I put my hand up and admit that I'd actually rather watch paint dry than endure a football match on TV. I've been to 'live' matches and they are different. Great fun, much excitement.

But watching on TV, it's not just about the actual game. Hours upon hours are dedicated to all the pre-match conversations, then there's the so called 'expert' chat during half time and of course at the end of the match all those experts unpicking every minor detail of the 90 minutes of play - why what the 'experts' thought would happen didn't happen, and so on and so forth.  I find it all rather tedious. So I'm not talking about watching football.

No - I'm talking tennis.

Yes, I know many of you reading may think that watching a tennis match is also pretty boring. But not me.

You see, it all comes down to personal interest and personal choice.

I can't bear watching all the hype around football and all the machismo around the players and the game. But I love watching those tennis players with all the thought and tactics that are employed. I love experiencing the ups and downs of play, which can swing so quickly in favour of one player or the other. There's so much 'thinking' involved ... as well as the athleticism and dedication which we can all marvel at.

One of the tennis 'Grand Slam' tournaments, and the only grass court 'Major' competition  - is held in a town in southwest London which is world famous. 

Wimbledon.

In fact, the Wimbledon Championships is recognised as being the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious. 

Right now we're on the brink of the final weekend of Wimbledon 2021 ... it's the Ladies Singles Final tomorrow (Saturday) and the Gentleman's Singles Final on Sunday. And there will be the doubles finals as well. These days there are junior tournaments and the Wimbledon Wheelchair championship matches.

But on this day back in 1877 it was the start of the very first Wimbledon Championship. The tournament was held, as it still is today, at the  All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (AEC & LTC) in Wimbledon, London.

The AEC & LTC had been founded in July 1868, as the All England Croquet Club. But as the interest in croquet was waning, in February 1875  lawn tennis was added to the interests at the club.

In June 1877 the club decided to organise a tennis tournament to pay for the repair of its pony roller, which they used to maintain the lawns, or the outdoor grass courts.

Although the game of 'tennis' can be traced back to 12th century France, in England it became what we now know as Real Tennis which was (and still is) played on an indoor court and became known as the 'Game of Kings'. There appear to have been various incarnations of the game in different countries.

It was the introduction of technology, namely the invention of the first lawn mower in Britain in 1830, which is thought to have led to the ability to prepare grass courts - or lawns laid to grass - which could be used as a fairly safe playing surface. This in turn enabled sports and leisure enthusiasts to create  pitches, greens, playing fields and ... tennis courts!

This development meant that the sports became more popular and people began to want standardised rules. It was in the mid 19th century that modern rules for many sports were first conceived, including ... lawn bowls, football, and lawn tennis.

The world's first 'tennis' club was actually founded in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in England in 1872. In nearby Birmingham in the English Midlands, a few years earlier (between 1859 and 1865 actually) a chap called Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera had developed a game that combined elements of another past time called 'racquets' (similar to squash) and the ball game pelota which hailed from the Basque region of Europe, on the French and Spanish border.
 
The duo first played the game on Perera's croquet lawn in Birmingham and a few years later the friends got together with two local doctors to  set up that first club on Avenue Road in Leamington Spa. It's here that the term "lawn tennis" was used as a name of an activity by a club for the first time. 
 
The game caught on and by May 1875 the Marylebone Cricket Club drew up the first standardised rules for tennis. 
 
Just two years later, the organisers of the first Wimbledon tournament had no precedent so, using those MCC regulations, they had to come up with a set of rules for a tournament.  
 
That first event only included a 'Gentlemen's Singles' competition, and 22 men played on the now famous grass courts, having each had to pay for the honour of taking part ... the entry fee was one guinea.
 
The tournament began on 9 July 1877, and the final – delayed for three days by rain – was played on 19 July in front of a crowd of about 200 people who each paid an entry fee of one shilling. Hopefully the club made the money they needed for that pony grass roller!
 
Until fairly recently, rain was an issue for Wimbledon and I've spent many an hour over the years watching re-runs of old matches on TV while 'rain stopped play'. However, in 2009 the All England Club put a retractable roof over the famous Centre Court, and in 2019 the other main show court, No. 1 Court, also got a roof.
 
Back on World Poetry Day on March 21, my 'One Day at a Time' blog featured one of my favourite poems - 'If' by Rudyard Kipling - but what I didn't point out at the time is that there's a line in the poem which is engraved over the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.
 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
 
Wimbledon Triumph and Disaster
These are words, of course, to inspire those players who are about to perform, hopefully at their best, on one of the world's most prestigious courts at the oldest tennis tournament in the world, with all the history that involves.
 
As today's competitors step under that inscription, I'm sure they are aware of the many many incredible sports men and women who have preceded them and all those who have also played on that hallowed turf. I hope so, anyway. Because although I'm sure they are thinking about their own game, the legacy of those who have gone before, including the early pioneers of the game, must be acknowledged.
 
But the words can also inspire us.
 
We might not be able to play world class tennis, or kick a ball at the highest level of football, or change the world, or do something spectacular.
 
But we all face 'triumphs' and successes, and 'disasters' and failures in our lives.
 
Life is like that. Ups and Downs.
 
And if we can face them both with equal measure - then our lives can surely achieve some sort of 'balance'.
 
More of that tomorrow!
 
 

You Affect the World

If you're as old as I am you will remember a time before the Internet.

In those days we had to write letters to people or chat to them on the 'phone if we want to communicate with them.

If we wanted to research subjects we had to look at books called 'encyclopaedias' or visit the local library to check out books with the information you needed.

Work was certainly different before the computer age. Yes I am one of those who used a manual typewriter and certainly, as a reporter/journalist, I had to do much more leg-work when it came to research. No looking up people, contacts and subjects on the internet. And actually that meant one got to talk to people face-to-face, which in some cases meant being braver than I certainly was in the early days.

Then came (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee, one of the early pioneers of computer science. Born on this day - June 8 - in 1955, he is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, which today of course connects us all. He invented the WWW in 1989 and by 1993-94 it started to become widely available and the likes of you and I could create and browse websites to our hearts content.

These days, of course, most of us use the internet, some for good but unfortunately some not. 

Many of us use computers and the connectivity it provides to do that all important research. How did I know that today was Tim Berners-Lee's birthday? Well a website told me so. All I had to do was to type 'on this day' into a search engine and there, at my fingertips, was a host of information about 'stuff' that happened on this day in history, people who were born and died, music released, and much more more.

At the click of a mouse I am able to find out a bit more about the World Wide Web which Sir Tim invented, and connect you to that information - just click the 'hyperlink' ! 

And I can even find quotes attributed to the great man, including this one ...

Tim-Berners-Lee-Quote-You-affect-the-world-by-what-you-browse

This I think is a profound thought.

Sir Tim has of course always been an advocate of the web, and ensuring it is freely available to everyone. But he has over the years spoken and warned us about its misuse. In 2019 he unveiled a global plan to 'save' the web from malevolent forces like fake news, violations of privacy, political manipulation and the other 'darkness' which some use the web for.

The Contract for the Web  calls on governments, business and companies and all of us individuals to protect the web from abuse and ensure it benefits humanity. Sir Tim has warned that otherwise the world could plunge into a “digital dystopia”.

While most of us use the internet, many are fearful of its power to corrupt, and even its size and that is justifiable. Lots of 'bad' stuff does happen online but I would say lots of good things happen too.

Take social media for example. Some use it to bully and harass and 'troll' others. People they may not even know but just because they can post, oftentimes anonymously, things they probably would be unlikely to say if they were face-to-face with their victims. Not just 'celebrities' but anyone they can get their teeth into. 

Many of us, however, try to use the internet and social media for good, to share positive messages and thoughts, to support each other, even at a distance. The internet has made keeping in touch with family and friends much easier and I for one am grateful to the likes of Tim Berners-Lee for bringing us all together.

And this quote from the great man reminds me that it's down to us all to make the world, and the internet, a better place.

We do affect the world by what we 'browse'.  All of us who populate the web with content rely on people clicking on the links. By browsing stuff that is not good for us, well ... that can corrupt us when we are online, and when we've switched off our tablets and computers! By 'following' those social media accounts that represent the bullies and trolls we perpetuate their existence. Even by clicking 'like' on horrid comments we give them space and license.

It doesn't mean we can't post debate that is constructive but I think, as the Contract for the Web says, it is down to us all to monitor our own behaviour.

We can't turn back time to the days before the internet, and why would we want to do that? But we can all be part of creating a future where the World Wide Web is overwhelmingly positive in its use and influence.

And that has to be good for all aspects of our lives, and our world!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Don't waste Time

I don't know how you're reading this.

Maybe you've logged on to your desktop computer, or perhaps you're reading this daily blog on your handheld technical device, or even your phone.

If you're as old as me - which is not ancient, but old enough - you might remember a time when we had no computers, and phones were plugged into the wall in your house, office or a 'phone box' on the side of the road.

I think I first saw and used a computer, a very basic one, at work in the 1980s. It was stand alone, and not connected to any other computers. To share information I had to load the data onto a 'floppy disc' which could be inserted into another machine. There was no 'internet' and no fancy graphics. Just black and white, or green on the screen.  

It wasn't long though, just a few years, when we had greater 'connectivity'.  The World Wide Web was 'invented' in 1989 and by about 1993 it was something we used every day. Initially I could connect (rather slowly and with that distinctive 'dial in' sound) via my telephone line but eventually came what we now know as 'wifi'. What freedom! When it works.

As for a 'mobile' phone, my first was a rather large analogue device which had a cover I flipped open to get to the dialling numbers. It had an aerial I had to extend to get a connection.  I think I could text on it and make calls, but nothing else. I'm talking about the early 1990s, so not that long ago in the greater scheme of things.

We've come a long way very quickly. No longer do we need to be 'plugged in' to connect to the world. Today I have a laptop and an I-pad, and an I-phone and I can do pretty much anything I want to on it, on the go, through wifi. 

The idea of mobile phones goes right back to the early 20th century and many many people have been involved in the development of the technology down the years. 

But I'm going to mention one man today who is synonymous with the development of the personal computer era.

His name was Steve Jobs, and he was born on this day - February 24th - in 1955.

Business magnate and guru, industrial designer, pioneer and innovator.  He and Steve Wozniak, a former high school friend, set up Apple Inc in 1976. Under Jobs' leadership as chairman and chief executive, the company has become one of the leading firms, if not THE leading technology company in the world.  Think that I-phone and the other tech I mentioned just a few moments ago.

I could say so much about Steve Jobs, but I won't. You can look him up on your I-phone or similar tech device to find out more.

There's no doubt that Steve Jobs inspired not just computer geeks and tech people during his time, but also those who wished to emulate his business acumen and determination to get things done. He was an unconventional character but he created an astonishing legacy which continues to inspire, even though the man himself is no longer with us.

And there's one quote which I found from Steve Jobs, which inspires me. It's part of a longer thought which I offer below, but it starts with this...

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” 

This is so profound. 

Many of us spend our lives trying to please others, and trying to be what others want us to be.

We do jobs that we have no passion for, because our family or our teachers, or our community want us to follow those paths. We believe things because we think if we stop believing we will upset the people around us, or those who taught us, or raised us. Even when it comes to relationships we maybe settle for less than we might, because the world tells us we need to be married, paired up, have children before we're a certain age. Even if we're with the wrong person. We tie ourselves into careers because they bring us money to buy the house, buy the clothes, have the holidays, live the life that 'everyone' lives. 

And think about the celebrity culture.

So many people think if they look like, sound like, wear the same things as those they perceive to be 'successful' then they will successful too. But one of the reasons that the celebrity who we might try to emulate were successful in the first place is because they WERE at the start, different and distinct. Original.  By copying them you are a poor facsimile, just a copy. Not original at all.

Take the example of music ... today's popular music. Listen to the charts and many of the successful downloads of tracks, and you may notice that many of them sound the same.  That 'breathy' rather 'whiney' sound where the singers slur their words. Many of them, when they occasionally sing 'properly' without that affectation, have great voices. But they adopt this sound because others have made a success with it. But what the copycat musicians forget is that the original artist made it BECAUSE they sounded 'different. They were original. 

Maybe if people had the courage to follow their OWN style, rather than just copying what they think will make them successful, they might actually get what they so long for. And if not, well at least they've been true to themselves.

I know I've been part of the system. I've been guilty of doing things, and making even important decisions in my life,  because I thought it was 'expected of me'.  I've stayed in jobs I dislike or am bored with because I don't want to let people down and to be seen to be walking away from 'a good situation'.  I've missed opportunities because I haven't been brave enough to step outside the expectations I think others have of me. It's so complicated.

But the older I get, and the shorter the amount of time I know is left to me, the braver I become. 

I'm not sure yet where this might lead me... but today, on this anniversary of Steve Jobs' birth, I take his thoughts on board and determine not to waste any more time living a life that is not mine.

Steve jobs feb 24

 

 


Symbols of Hope

Have you had your vaccination yet?

If you're a person of my age, that's a question you might be hearing or reading quite a lot recently.

And right now, in my case, the answer is - NO!

My age group hasn't yet been invited to have the Covid19 jab and I'm not vulnerable and I don't have underlying health conditions, so I've not been called early to our local vaccination centre at Fort Regent overlooking St Helier in Jersey.

Here we're getting on famously with the rollout of the vaccination against this awful virus, and I expect to have my jab probably sometime in the next six weeks. Although we all know that it won't cure COVID, it will protect us against becoming ill and hopefully, prevent more deaths.

The world is pinning its hopes on the various forms of the coronavirus vaccines which have been developed over the past year, to ensure we can go back to a sense of 'normal' sometime in the future. It won't kill off the virus because most experts predict it is here to stay, and it won't mean those of us who are vaccinated can just pick up our old lives without thought of risk in the future.

We will still need to wear masks, sanitise our hands, and I reckon social distancing is probably here to stay for a long time. And it's not just about us, it's about the rest of the world. Until the vaccine is shared with poorer nations and we all have an equal chance to benefit from it, the world will still be constantly on the brink of outbreaks, lockdown, restrictions.

These are extraordinary times but are they 'unprecedented'? I haven't the time to go into it in detail here, but in the course of human history there have been many 'unprecedented' times. Many epidemics and pandemics, many diseases which were the scourge of humanity not just for one year, or even decades, but for centuries.

On February 23rd 1954 a group of schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, USA, were the first group of people to receive injections of a new vaccine against a disease which has been around since pre-history.  However, it was in the 20th century that major outbreaks and epidemics began to emerge.

That disease is poliomyelitis - polio. Click on the word if you want to find out more about what it is ... but in short, it's an infectious disease which can in very rare situations cause death, in many has no effect and in others results in long term ill-health, paralysis and disability. It spreads from person to person through infected human faeces or saliva and it's been around for thousands of years. We know this because there are historic depictions of the disease and it's debilitating effects in ancient art.

However, it wasn't until the late 18th century that polio was recognised as a distinct condition. And the virus that causes it ...  the poliovirus ... wasn't identified until 1900.  Since the late 19th century there had been major outbreaks in Europe and the United States  and the race was on to try to identify this disease which in the 20th century became of the most worrying childhood diseases. You only have to look at old films and read history to see the way polio devastated lives. One of the images ingrained in my mind is that of the 'iron lung' - one of the symptoms and effects of polio is paralysis of the lungs, so these massive contraptions helped people to breathe.

Polio outbreaks blighted the first part of the 20th century. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who at the time was a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

The rapidity with which the coronavirus vaccines have been developed has been astonishing. In the past, this took many years of research and tests and trials and in the case of polio it wasn't until the 1950s that the first vaccines were developed by various virologists and medical researchers.

In the late 1940s, President Roosevelt helped to create an organisation by the name of the March of Dimes, to find a way to defend against polio. They enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk's research resulted in the discovery that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that any effective vaccine needed to combat all three. Little by little, by growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating  or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk gradually developed a vaccine which was able to immunize patients against polio without danger of infecting them.

And it was that vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that was used during that first mass anti-polio vaccination of the children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on this day back in 1954.

As with the current situation, there wasn't just one vaccine being developed. Soon after that first trial, another medical researcher, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio ... and this is the treatment which is credited with having made the difference to the spread of polio in the second half of the 21st century.

This vaccine, which is a drop on a tongue, is the one most commonly used. I remember as a little girl queuing up in front of a school nurse and having a little drop of something bitter on my tongue. I didn't know then that this was protecting me from paralysis and disability. 

Not everyone was so fortunate. I have a couple of friends who were infected as children and have ended up with physical disability - it usually affects the legs. I feel fortunate that I was born post 1954 when vaccines were available.

Yet the availability of a polio vaccine did not eradicate the disease immediately, or even within a half a century. Polio is still around today and it's mostly in parts of the world that are poor and disadvantaged, and where there is still conflict.

In recent decades there's been a real effort to try to eradicate the disease, led by the World Health Organisation. If polio is completely eliminated, it would be the second disease after smallpox to disappear from the face of the earth.

In 1988 when the WHO initiated the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, around 350,000 children a year across the world were being paralyzed by the polio virus. Back at the beginning of the 21st century the WHO was reporting that the number of cases diagnosed each year had been reduced by 99.9%.  In 2016 polio numbers had been driven down to 42 cases across the globe.  

The multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate polio is concentrated on children and among those who embraced this campaign more than 35 years ago are the members of Rotary International. 

Their 'Purple for Polio' campaign involves giving the polio vaccine to children across the world.

Why 'purple'? It's because every time a child receives their life-saving polio drops on mass polio immunisation days, their little finger is painted with a purple dye ... this shows they've received their polio vaccine.

Crocus polio 1I've sort of got involved in the campaign over the past years. I've interviewed local Jersey Rotary members about it on the radio and I've been to celebrations, and I've bought and planted purple crocus corms which about this time of year are beginning to pop up across the island, and in my garden!

As the campaign has developed, it has come down to just a few countries where polio is still 'wild' ... including Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, poverty and conflict mean that clinicians often can't get into isolated rural communities, and sometimes prevailing cultural and even religious beliefs prevent the population embracing the treatments or even allowing the medical professions in to host those mass immunization days. It's slow progress in places like this.

Unfortunately during the coronavirus pandemic, where travel has been so restricted, cases of polio have started to rise again. Last year more than 200 cases of wild polio and around 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease were registered. According to news reports, most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rogue strains of polio also emerged across sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

So there is still much to do! It might still take a while, but across the world there are those absolutely committed to seeing an end to this terrible disease which affects not just individuals and their futures, but families and whole communities.

We're not quite there yet, but the signs of the purple crocuses springing up in my garden, and across Jersey, are symbols of hope.

 


Time to think about Time

For many years my working life was dominated by The Pips!

Any idea what I'm talking about?

Well it's that series of 'pips' ... five short and one long tone ... that are broadcast by many BBC Radio stations at the top of each hour. 

Why am I talking about this today? Well, it was on February 5th 1924 that the BBC Pips ... the Greenwich Time Signal .. was first broadcast.

Bbc-history-task-pips

As a radio presenter, for many years I had to ensure I met the 'Pips' cleanly at the top of the hour. No talking over them, no crashing into them. They were sacrosanct.  It could be a quite a pressure but you got used to it.

Only a few BBC radio stations continue to run the Greenwich Time Signal now to give us the precise start to the hour.

Some might think that's a shame, because those pips were a way we could check that our watches and clocks were spot on. These days digital time pieces are so accurate we perhaps don't need the Greenwich Time Signal to keep us on track of time.

Back in 1924, the idea for the Pips came from the Astronomer Royal of the time, Sir Frank Watson Dyson, and the head of the BBC, John Reith.

I'm not going to to go into the technical details of this because I don't know them and it might be rather boring. If you're so inclined, there are plenty of websites which can give you that information.

But what I've gleaned is that the Pips were originally controlled by two mechanical clocks in the Royal Greenwich Observatory which had electrical contacts attached to their pendula. These sent a signal each second to the BBC, which converted them to generate the distinctive beeps of the pips. By the way, just in case one clock failed, two clocks were always used and years later an electronic clock was deployed.

Until 1972 the pips were of equal length. Confusion reigned. Which was the final pip? How did we know it was actually the top of the hour? That was when the last pip was extended. Five short pips, followed by one long.

In 1990 the BBC started to generate the pips themselves via what I read is an atomic clock. Wow.

The Pips were at one point featured on BBC TV but that was discontinued in the 1960s, yet the Greenwich Time Signal seems to remain synonymous with the nation that is Great Britain. It was the first sound heard in the handover to the London 2012 Olympics during the Beijing 2008 Olympics closing ceremony. To celebrate the 90th birthday of the pips on 5 February 2014, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast a sequence that included a re-working of the Happy Birthday melody using the GTS as its base sound.

These days, if you want the reassuring sound of the Greenwich Time Signal, then the best place to go is BBC Radio 4, which uses them at the top of each hour. Sometimes when I can't sleep and I'm listening to the BBC World Service radio I also hear them as well. There are similar time signals used by radio stations in lots of other countries, but I guess the BBC Pips are the most famous.

But what you may not know is that the GTS is available not just on the hour but also on the quarter past, the half past and the quarter to the hour. When you're presenting in a radio studio there's a GTS stream you can fade up on your desk to give you the Pips, and if after the top of the hour you forget to fade that stream down, it'll automatically pop up at those times as well. I have to say, that only happened to me just the once!

The thing about the Greenwich Time Signal, and those Pips, is that they remind us that time is fleeting. Time is passing. Time is short.

Perhaps we don't like being reminded about that. I know I don't. 

But if there's something we need to get done ... maybe we need to be just get on and do it, before we run out of time. And although there may be lots of things that we need to do just because we need to do them, it's also important to use our time wisely.

And on that point ... there are masses of quotes about time on the internet but there's one which I'll leave with you today ...

“Always make time for things that make you feel happy to be alive.”

(Anonymous)

 


Beauty out of Chaos

When you were a kid did you ever get into Lego? Perhaps you still are?

I have adults friends and relatives who love a bit of Lego, and these days the constructions come in all themes and all shapes and sizes. From farmyards to Star Wars and Harry Potter's Hogwarts, these kits come with strict instructions, specialist bricks and other objects, which when carefully and meticulously put together, turn into something quite magical. If you want you can recreate the White House, or the Roman Coliseum, the London Sky Line ... all in Lego!

But today I'm not talking about these modern marvels. No, I'm thinking about those basic, simple plastic blocks in bright primary colours which I loved as a child.

Lego (2)There was no order to it  ... usually the Lego bricks were kept in a box and then scattered on the floor. Like the kids of today, we then rifled through them to find what we wanted, making a lot of noise and grabbing what we needed to build that simple house, or car, or even people (before the days when Lego made plastic people) And of course, the best thing was, at the end of it all, we could smash it to pieces and the following day we could use the bricks again to make something new, confident in the knowledge that whatever Lego piece we chose, it would always connect with another.

It all seemed so simple, but of course, it wasn't. The development of the child's toy had not happened overnight.

It has all begun around 1932 when a Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys. Two years later, his company became known as 'Lego' - in Danish, the phrase leg godt  means "play well" ! 

By 1947 the company was developing plastic toys and in 1949 they began producing a new product, 'Automatic Binding Bricks'.  Other companies were also producing similar self-locking blocks, and Lego continued to refine and develop the ultimate 'locking' design, and to search for an outstandingly durable material from which to make their building blocks.

And so it was that 63 years ago today - on January 28 1958 - that the modern Lego brick design was patented.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Back at the start of it all Christiansen had a motto -  "only the best is good enough". He encouraged his workers to never skimp on quality, always producing the best. That is still the Lego Group's motto today and it's stood the Danish company in good stead because Lego is now one of the most recognisable and valuable brands in the world. Not just all those building bricks and incredible kits for adult Lego connoisseurs, but even amusement parks. I've had a few fun days myself at Legoland in the town of Windsor in the UK!

Films, competitions, those theme parks dotted around the world - the Lego Group continues to develop it's brand and products, but I guess it's that iconic brick which we all remember. We certainly remember it when we unexpectedly step on one of them in bare feet ! 

But what I love about Lego is that the original concept and even the fancy kits today are all about IMAGINATION and creativity. And it's about perseverance ... if at first you don't succeed, try try again.

The individual blocks in themselves are nothing. But locked into another, and another, and another, and another ... we can build something out of nothing. We can imagine something and build it. And if we're not happy, we can admit it hasn't worked, and try again, re-building  it using the same blocks which we discarded on the first design.

Out of the chaos of the multi-coloured masses of Lego pieces scattered on the floor in front of us can come order, so long as we have the determination to keep trying, re-thinking our design, and maybe use the bricks and blocks in a slightly different configuration.

There's something spiritual about that.

Out of the chaos of our lives can come order. With a motivation to do our best, some imagination, a good deal of determination and maybe a guide to help us from time to time, we can create something beautiful.

And if it doesn't happen the first, or even the umpteenth time, if we develop our skills, and talents and creativity and motivations, and use them again, and again perhaps in a slightly different way, we can begin to create that beauty in our lives which we have craved.

And - if we think beyond ourselves, the same can be true for our communities, our world. We just need to be committed to creating that beauty, determined not to give up, even if at the moment everything looks and feels so messy!

So - maybe it's time to start building!


A Red Letter Day

Are you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok ? The options, it seems, are endless.  

But once upon a time, even before the invention of the telephone, if people wanted to contact their business contacts, friends, or family when they were apart, the best way was to write a letter.

I love letters. I love handling them, thinking of the person who has taken the time to pick up a pen and write down their thoughts.  Cards also work for me and it’s about this time of year we file away or recycle last year’s Christmas cards.

The letters people have written to each other in the past are also accounts of history, of facts and feelings handed down to us from people who have long since departed our world.

A few years back I even wrote a book based on the love letters exchanged over nearly 40 years in the 19th century between the founders of The Salvation Army - William and Catherine Booth. I have to say, reading their letters, which are held in the British Library in London, and writing 'William and Catherine' not only helped me to understand their personalities and motivations in life, but also to get an insight into their deep Christian faith and how that helped to create what is now a global church and charity movement!

But back to the point of today's 'thought'.

It was on January 10th 1840 that the Penny Post was introduced in Great Britain. This meant that mail was delivered at a standard charge. Until that point every letter was paid for individually by the recipient and it was a cumbersome system.  It was at the end of the 1830s that a chap called Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, which proposed a uniform postage rate of one penny, wherever in the country the letter was posted or received.  To prevent postage fraud, he came up with the idea of an adhesive label to pre-pay the postage. So the postage stamp was born.  

The 'Penny Black' was that first ever stamp and its inventor was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria and became SIR Rowland Hill.

Red post box (edit)

Today we can still find old red postage boxes dotted about, and whenever I spot one it draws me right back into history. It's a link with the past!

Not so many people use ‘snail mail’ today, but every time we place a postage stamp on an envelope perhaps we can think again of those who have left  their impact on the world through letters.

In the New Testament we hear accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, and the early church through epistles, or letters.  Letters which contain wisdom which is as true today as when it was conceived and written down a couple of thousand years ago.

Like St Paul’s words to the early church in Corinth - ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love!’ (1Corinthians 13:13)

If that’s not a great blast from the past handed down to us in a letter, what is?

Note - http://www.victorianweb.org/history/pennypos.html


Remembering Uncle Mike

Today is World Braille Day.

If you’re not already aware,  braille’ is a system of reading and writing for people with no sight. Put simply, although there is a lot more to it than this - it’s a series of raised dots which spell out letters and words. It’s brilliant.

I first came across braille when I was a child.  ‘Uncle Mike’ was a great family friend, and he was blind. I remember his many braille books – large bound copies sitting on a sturdy book shelf, and I was fascinated by the bumps and dots on the pages. I wish now I’d asked him to teach me a bit about reading that way.

Because Uncle Mike WAS a teacher, a headmaster actually at a secondary school for blind pupils in a place called Thika in Kenya in East Africa. Mike was not just an intellect, he was also a man of deep faith, a loving family man, a talented musician (a pianist, playing by ear and blessed with a gorgeous singing voice) very funny and tremendously adventurous – he once climbed Mount Kenya!

But back to the braille and why January 4th is World Braille Day.

It’s because it was on this day back in 1809 that the creator of the reading and writing system - Louis Braille – was born. He was French and was born sighted. Unfortunately, at the age of three he had a terrible accident which blinded him in one eye. An infection followed and spread to both eyes, and by the time he was five, he was completely blind. I read that because he was so young he didn’t realise he had no sight and often asked why it was so dark. His parents were apparently determined that their youngest child would not miss out on life and he was educated and learned to make his way around his village using a cane.

Louis was very bright and eventually received a scholarship to France's Royal Institute for Blind Youth, where he first began to investigate reading and writing systems, including a military cryptography system devised by a chap called Charles Barbier, which allowed night time reading and writing. By 1824 Louis was ready to show his ideas to the world and the system he devised has become a window on to the world for blind and partially sighted people down the years. Although it’s been slightly tweaked from time to time, the system even today remains virtually changed from Louis’ original concepts.

Today – it’s simply known as ‘braille’ and is used across the globe!

And so today – January 4th – is World Braille Day and this month is Braille Literacy Month in some countries, helping us all to celebrate not just Louis Braille’s incredible invention, but also encouraging us to understand the needs of people who have no sight.

As ‘Uncle Mike’ proved to me all those years ago – not by telling me but just by being who he was - just because one has a disability doesn’t mean that the world is closed to us! We can all climb our mountains, even if we think it might be impossible!

Louis Braille - Wikipedia / Braille - Wikipedia / What is World Braille Day? - Braille Works