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Say No to 01189

Many years ago in 1995 I was involved in the PhONEday number change when UK telephone numbers had an additional one forcibly inserted into the dialing code so, for example, Reading went from being 0734 to 01734. The purpose of this was to allow for more capacity across the network as a whole.

My part in this was working for Yellow Pages where on the National Code Change project I had to write the code to update to do this insertion. For such a simple change you cannot believe how long it took to run – days. That’s what you get for running on an IDMSX database the smug buggers in the new media team who were running on Oracle were done in a matter of hours but that’s another story.

For some reason within a year it was deemed necessary to change the code for Reading again this time from 01734 to 0118. The reason was the same that there was insufficient capacity and this would resolve the issue. Why nobody had thought of this a year before has always puzzled me.

So we went through the whole exercise again but by this time I had moved on from Yellow Pages and I played no part in the actual switch over. However, I was there for the lead up and one thing that always bugged me and continues to do so now is how poorly the change was explained to the residents of Reading and leads to confusion to this day.

What happened was that the code was changed from 01734 to 0118 and a nine was inserted at the front of all existing numbers so 01734 123456 became 0118 912 3456. Unfortunately through a lack of publicity and that people assumed that code had to be five digits most people assumed that the code for Reading had become 01189 and for a while dialling local numbers without the code and the leading nien still worked. They don’t now.

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The whole point of the change was to give greater capacity and that was achieved by  effectively allocating ten codes to Reading 01180 to 01189 but initially only 0118 9 was used. Then the hospital and university became 0118 3 and now, as you can see from above, 0118 4 is being used.

The problem is that plenty of people still think that the code is 01189 and it isn’t difficult to find marketing material with 01189 on it. Does this matter? Not greatly. Anyone dialling the number without the code just won’t get connected and the company won’t get the business. But it just bugs me!

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Bletchley Park & The National Museum of Computing

Bletchley Park is somewhere that I have wanted to visit for quite a while given it’s historical significance to both the country and myself. To the country for the work on cracking Enigma and to me as so many of the iconic computers I have worked on are housed in the separate National Museum of Computing there.

The park museum was brought to life for us by a talk showing the Enigma machine in action and explaining how it worked. This meant that we got to see the machine with the protective glass casing removed and even better beneath the keyboard so you could see the inner workings. This was followed by a short talk and demonstration of one of the ‘bombe’ machines. Regrettably I struggled to understand this as well as I had the Enigma explanation.

We then wandered around the rest of the park looking into some of the huts that are open to the general public but none were as interesting as the main museum.

After lunch we made our way to  National Museum of Computing. The Colossus and Tunny galleries are open daily but the rest of the museum is only open on selected days. The place is a veritable Tardis going on for seemingly ever covering computing over a very long period and includes the worlds oldest working computer.

ICL 2900What was fascinating to Helen and I was that it has so many of the computers we have used in our lives, including a room housing an ICL 2900 which we both used extensively in our first job at CAP in Reading. We were able to reminisce about VME, Application Master and magnetic tapes!

Of course, this may well not have the same significance to you but it is still a fascinating snapshot of just how far computing has come in a very short space of time.

If you are to visit Bletchley I would ensure that you enquire before setting off if a demonstration is due for day of your visit as if made a world of difference to our tour. Also make sure that you go on a day when the Nation Museum of Computing is fully open (currently Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 12 noon) as you can pass quite a bit of time there but be aware that there is a separate charge for this.

If you like your history, code braking and computing then there is no better place to be than Bletchley Park.

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Canterbury Tales

I’d never been to Canterbury before last week and that’s a shame as it is a lovely place. Even better was that the sun came out after nearly three months with enough rain to make Russell Crowe consider building a boat.

The heart of Canterbury is the cathedral. I made the mistake of assuming that it was just the, admittedly, very grand church but, in fact, the grounds are extensive, something that isn’t evident from outside the gates. The cloisters were particularly atmospheric with the morning sun streaming through. There is also a very posh looking school there where the very well behaved pupils wandered by some in bright purple gowns.

The rest of the town has much to see too, including a relatively short stretch of wall, the view from which is great to one side and pretty bleak to the other. It was easy to spend a day there wandering around but do expect to pay handsomely to get into the cathedral but it is worth it.

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USA ’14 – The Countdown Begins

So with less than a month to go there is a real sense of excitement in the Thompson household as we prepare to go back to Orlando. Notwithstanding that this is the sixth time that we will have been to Florida as a family we still all really enjoy it and it is a true family holiday where there is something for everyone.

There is definitely something to be said for choosing a destination where it is somewhere that everyone enjoys. I remember the holidays in France that Helen and I enjoyed but dragging two young boys around yet another chateau can be hard work!

Our first visit to Orlando was in 2001 when the boys would have been eight and six. Helen and I were, it is fair to say, pretty indifferent to the prospect but knew that the boys would love it so we decided to go. We came back from that holiday having loved it as much or if not more than the boys.

On that occasion the boys were full of wonder at the cast of characters that they had seen in the films brought to life and we spent many a happy hour queuing so that they could add another character signature to their autograph books. Now they are 21 and 19 and the focus is very different but the enjoyment levels are just the same.

UntitledPlanning is key to a successful trip and for us it began a year ago as we meticulously worked through the flight options trying to find the cheapest day to fly. We are lucky that we are no longer bound by the school holidays and so that can make a £1,000 difference to the ticket price. We also found that by combining the flight with car hire we were also able to get just over £88 cashback pretty much covering the cost of the car hire.

That done it was on to the villa hire. Having been a number of times before we know what we like and where we wanted to be. We tried to hire the same villa as we had been in a couple of years previously but that was already gone 12 months in advance of the dates we wanted to be there. Fortunately there are no shortage of sites offering private villas for rent. We eventually found one through Holiday Lettings, which is a part of TripAdvisor.

iStock_000020861023XXXLargeMake no mistake about it a family holiday to the States can be expensive so anything that you can do to reduce or spread the cost is welcome. When I tell people about the next tip I have had many laugh at me but for us it really makes a difference. We start getting our spending money a year before we are due to travel and get a small amount of cash in dollars each month. Which means that by the time we are due to travel we have built up our holiday spending money but not noticed it while building it up.

The advantage of this is that you can put a little aside each month much more easily than having to find, say £1,000 just before you are due to depart. The disadvantage could be that the rate changes over the period and that you end up getting fewer dollars than you might have but I would rather that than having to find the money in one go. Of course you could just save the sterling amount in a saving account too until you are ready to exchange.

Screenshot_08_03_2014_10_58We also always get our park tickets before we leave the UK. We do this for a number of reasons. Firstly because you don’t want to be standing around at the ticket office of the park when you could be inside enjoying the delights. Secondly the tickets are priced to encourage you to do so. One decision you do have to take is how often you are going to visit the parks as 14 day tickets are the most cost effective but also more costly.

You might think that after spending several hundred pounds per person on a 14 day ticket to the parks that that would be your only outlay but be warned that parking each day at both Disney and Universal will cost you an additional $15 per car. This is valid across all the parks in the same group but is an additional drain on your spending money.

Another thing to remember is that most items for sale are subject to sales tax but the ticket price invariably never shows this and so you can quite often have your money to pay at the till only to find that you are short a few dollars.

Plenty of items are cheaper in the States and clothing in particular. If you intend to stock up while you are away one tip passed on to us was to put a smaller case inside a larger one on the way out so that you have extra capacity for the return journey. Unless you are intending on a very heavy shopping trip that might be overkill though.

So that’s our holiday planning done and now all we have to do is patiently wait three weeks before we can all jet off for what undoubtedly will be the last Florida holiday with the “children”.