Saturday 28 December 2013

Happy Birthday to H-P

Not only was it Christmas this week, but a few days beforehand I celebrated my own birthday. Now into my mid-50’s, I guess it must be almost impossible for others to buy for me. Not because I have everything I need, but age gives you simpler tastes and requirements maybe and whenever anyone asks me what I would like, I can never think of anything I actually want.

However I did receive a present for both celebrations from my “better half” of a new laptop computer. My old ASUS eee netbook had seen better years and I was fortunate to receive a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion Touchscreen example, running Windows 8.1 and as I write, I am still learning the ins and outs of it.

On 1st January, it will be the 75th anniversary of the founding of Hewlett-Packard. William"Bill" Redington Hewlett (May 20, 1913 – January 12, 2001 and David Packard (September 7, 1912 – March 26, 1996) both graduated from Stanford University in 1935.

Packards Garage
In 1939, Packard and Hewlett established Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Packard's garage in Palo Alto, California with an initial capital investment of $538. The decision of whose name came first came about from the toss of a coin, from which presumably, Mr Hewlett was the victor.

Hewlett-Packard (or HP as they are generally referred to these days), is the world’s leading PC manufacturer although they did fend off a challenge to their supremacy from Chinese competitor Lenovo (click HERE for details).

So far I am very pleased with my HP Pavilion and am even getting to grips with the new Windows operating system and the touchscreen.

HP HQ in Palo Alto

So on New Years Day, as well as singing "Auld Lang Syne," please join me in wishing wish a very Happy 75th Birthday to HP. 

Messrs Packard and Hewlett’s fine company have brought new life and fun to an aging fool’s computing activities.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

The Master - Sir Jack Hobbs (1882 - 1963)

On Saturday 21st December 2013, it will be the shortest day here in the Northern Hemisphere, 100 years since the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World newspaper, the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of the Daleks on Doctor Who and also 50 years since the death of one of the greatest batsmen in world cricket - Sir Jack Hobbs.

John Berry “Jack” Hobbs was born in Cambridge on 16th December 1882 and became the leading run scorer and century maker in first class cricket, amassing 61,760 runs and reaching 3 figures on no less than 199 occasions (Wisden, the cricketer’s bible, dispute these figures however, claiming he achieved 61,237 runs with 197 hundreds) . Known to cricket players and fans alike as “the Master,” he played for Surrey between 1905 – 1934, with his England career stretching for 22 years between 1908 and 1930.

Hobbs (left) and Herbert Sutcliffe
A right-handed batsman and occasional right arm medium pace bowler, Hobbs excelled in the field, being a specialist fielder in the covers. In the 1920s he was the UK’s biggest cricketing star and, similarly to sporting stars of today, lent his name to commercial products. He had greater financial security than many of his contemporaries but continued to be concerned that his family kept the stability and security lacking from his own childhood.

He became the first professional cricketer ever to be knighted (in 1953), yet was very reluctant to accept the honour. He was eventually persuaded to take the honour when it was explained that he was taking it not only for himself, but for all professional cricketers.

Sir Jack passed away in 1963 only 9 months after his wife, who had been unwell for a number of years, died. His health began to fail soon after her death and they are buried in Hove cemetery where they both spent many of their later years.

So it's half a century since "the Master" left us. The great man should be turning in his grave after the gutless way the current England team recently relinquished the Ashes in Australia. If only there was anyone out there with half of his batting talent, we would at least have put up something of a fight!

RIP Sir Jack.

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Tuesday 10 December 2013

Christmas Tree: Star Vs Angel?

Have you got around to putting up your Christmas decorations yet? If so, is your tree of natural pine, or do you go in for an artificial one? I must admit that for numerous reasons, all too tenuous to go into great depth here, we always have one of the latter persuasion. But more to the point (especially for this posting) is your tree is topped with a star or by an angel?

The concept of a Christmas tree was introduced in Germany as far back as the 16th century (and possibly going even further back) when Christians brought a tree back to their homes and adorned it with decorations etc. Although the idea of a tree at Christmas had been brought to the British shores previously, its main popularity in the UK has been attributed to the husband of Queen Victoria, namely Prince Albert.

In 1848, Victoria, Albert and their family were pictured on the cover of the Illustrated London News, all standing around their tree at Windsor Castle and soon enough, the tradition was being followed by many of the wealthier middle-class English families who took great pleasure in covering them with the likes of  apples, nuts and dates etc. 

In fact the young Victoria had previously been used to a tree being placed in every room of the house during her childhood, prompting her to write in her journal as a 13 year old in 1832:

"After dinner... we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room... There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees..."


In these earlier days, Victorians preferred the use of an angel at the top of their trees which signified the angel who proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the world. Moving on to the 1870s with the growth of the British Empire, a nationalistic fervour took over and many people took pleasure in topping their trees with the Union Jack (Flag).

Many people however (and I have to admit to being among them) like to top their tree with a star, signifying the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

So, if you have one, how do you top your tree? 

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Tuesday 19 November 2013

The 1908 Olympic Games

London hosted the XXX Olympic Summer Games in 2012. This was the 3rd occasion that the games have been held in the city with previous Olympiads taking place in 1908 and 1948.

The 1908 Olympic Games or the IV Olympiad, came to London at very short notice, after originally being designated for Rome. However in 1906, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius devastated Naples and the Italian authorities decide to divert the funds they intended for the games, to helping the disaster.

White City Stadium
The 1908 London Olympics took place over an extended period, between April and October and were mainly located at the purpose built White City stadium (also known as the Great Stadium in Shepherd's Bush), which was previously arable farming land. Built in very short time and holding a capacity of 68,000 the White City complex was thought of as a technological marvel. The track circumference was a third of a mile long, with a swimming and diving pool, along with platforms for wrestling and gymnastics.

It was at these games where the marathon distance was established. The original plan was to race over a distance of 25 miles, but this was extended to 26 miles 385 yards so that firstly, the race could start at Windsor Castle and secondly, it would finish in front of the King at the stadium. In 1921 this was adopted as the standard distance for the marathon.
The games most famous event took place at the marathon, where Dorando Pietri of Italy, was the first athlete to enter the stadium. But after running the wrong way and being helped by officials, he was disqualified from 1st place after crossing the line in premier position. The next day, Queen Alexandra, who felt sorry for the athlete, awarded the Italian a silver cup for his efforts.

Sports Played and Venues Used Included:
Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Cycling,  Diving, Fencing, Figure skating, Football, Gymnastics, Hockey, Lacrosse, Polo, Rackets, Rowing, Rugby union, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Tug of war, Water motorsports, Water polo and Wrestling.
As well as the White City, other venues used included Wimbledon (tennis), Bisley ranges (shooting),  Henley (rowing),  Princes skating club in Knightsbridge (figure skating), Northampton Institute in Islington (boxing, diving & swimming) and Southampton Water/Solent (sailing).
22 nations took part, with Great Britain (the host nation) being the most successful, winning 56 gold medals from a total of 146. The United States was 2nd with 23 golds, followed by Sweden with 8.
Highlights from the games

Controversy surrounded the games. Many teams decided to march at the opening ceremony without being preceded by a national flag. This was in protest at the insistence that the Finnish team paraded after the Russian flag, as it was part of the Russian Empire at the time.
The Swedish flag had not been displayed above the stadium so the Swedes refused to take part in the opening ceremony and the United States flag was also not above the stadium, causing the flag bearer to refuse to dip the flag when passing the royal box.

Stadium Demolition
The White City stadium continued to be used up until the 1985 when it was demolished and the site now houses the British Broadcasting Corporations Media Village. The Media Centre houses a memorial dedicated to the games and the stadium that once stood on the site.
The stadium had been used over the years as an exhibition site and for numerous sporting activities such as greyhound racing, speedway, a temporary home for Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club and it hosted one match in the 1966 World Cup.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Yorkshire's Rhubarb Triangle

The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire, England, is an area famous for the production of early, forced rhubarb which is situated between the towns of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. During the first half of the 20th Century, it covered a wider area of approx 30 square miles, stretching further north and west to the cities of Leeds and Bradford.

The village of Carlton (6 miles south of Leeds) is generally thought of as "the hub of Yorkshire rhubarb growing" with suggestions actually having been made that it changes its name to "Rhubarb". Early each year, Wakefield hosts an annual Rhubarb Festival which draws visitors to the area from far and wide.

The plant has been an important part of the local economy for well over 150 years. Originally grown for local markets, in the early days special rhubarb trains left Wakefield every day, bound for London loaded up with tons of the reddish/pink vegetable.

Rhubarb Origins

Being a native plant of Siberia, is it any wonder that it thrives in the damp, cold winter conditions often found in Yorkshire? The plant has grown wild on the banks of the Volga River for centuries and has been utilised by the Chinese for medicinal use, often being dried and used as a laxative.

It is usually considered to be a vegetable, although a US court decided in 1947 that as it was used as a fruit, it was to be counted as such for the purposes of regulations and duties.

It is more often than not stewed with sugar and made into rhubarb pies or desserts, but it also has its place as a savoury dish and can even be pickled.

So What is Forced Rhubarb?

A Forcing Shed
Forced rhubarb is where the vegetable is grown inside a long, low forcing shed under dark and warm conditions. Traditionally grown by candlelight, it is believed that if you keep very quiet, you can actually hear the rhubarb grow!

Forced rhubarb is considered to be more tender than its cousin grown outdoors in summer. Away from daylight, the leaves grow to a greenish yellow colour and the stalks are bright crimson with a wholly smooth texture. The harvest is generally completed by the end of March.

In February 2010, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was awarded Protection Designation of Origin status (PDO) by the European Commission. An accreditation similar to Champagne, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Stilton Cheese and Parma Ham.

Further Reading

To find out more about the rhubarb growing industry it is suggested you read the article, 'The Story of Rhubarb' written by local historian John Goodchild, included in the book Aspects of Wakefield (Wharncliffe Publishing 1998)

Sunday 1 September 2013

Rocky Marciano - 90th Anniversary of his Birth

Today (1st September) is the 90th anniversary of the birth of legendary boxer Rocky Marciano (born Rocco Francis Marchegiano), who was World Heavyweight boxing champion for a 4 year period during the early to mid 1950s.

Considered by many to be the greatest of them all, he was the only boxer to hold the heavyweight title going undefeated throughout his career. 

After initially winning the belt, Marciano defended the title 6 times beating the likes of Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland LaStarza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell and Archie Moore.

Bred from immigrant Italian parents in the town of Brockton, Massachusetts with 3 sisters and a brother, at the age of 18 months he almost perished when contracting pneumonia. 

Thankfully he survivied and his early sporting exploits at school were made up of not only playing baseball, but also showing promise as a wrestler.

After serving in the US forces in the latter part of the 2nd World War (a period of this spent in Swansea, South Wales), his amateur and early professional boxing career showed great promise and at the age of 29 he went on to take the coveted World title in September 1952 when facing the 9 years his senior Walcott. 

In the contest Marciano was knocked down early in the 1st round and Jersey Joe continued during the next few rounds to build up a substantial lead. In the 13th round (World title bouts were made up of 15 rounds in those days), the champ was caught by a glancing left hook, sending him sprawling to his knees and consequently failing to beat the referee's count

At the time of the fight's conclusion Walcott was well ahead on all scorecards. However in the re-match a year later, Marciano didn't waste any time dispatching his opponent in the 1st round.

4 years after becoming the Champion however Rocky announced his retirement from the ring in April 1956 initially moving into television boxing commentary and refereeing and investing in various business ventures.

In 1969 on the eve of his 46th birthday, he was killed when as a passenger in a light aircraft, the inexperienced pilot of the plane hit a tree after encountering bad weather in Iowa.

With a faultless record of 49 wins, of which 43 came by way of KO, Marciano is certainly up there with the greats of the ring.

An interview with Rocky on Australian TV from 1966

A personal footnote: 

Many years ago, one of my father's work colleagues used to act as an usher and doorman at the boxing presentations that regularly graced the York Hall arena in Bethnal Green (East London). 

He used to pass on to me many autographed fight cards by the top boxers of the day and once actually obtained an autographed photo of Marciano of which, many years later, I stupidly managed to lose!

Thursday 18 July 2013

Bruce Lee - Martial Arts Legend.

It is hard to believe but on Saturday July 20th, it will be 40 years to the day since martial arts movie star and popular culture icon Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong.

Lee Jun-fan was born in Chinatown, San Francisco in November 1940 to parents originating from Hong Kong.

Raised in Kowloon, he was introduced to the movie industry by his father and appeared in numerous films in his early years. 

At the age of 18 he returned to the USA in order further his education and at that time began to teach martial arts. Initially going back to the San Francisco area, he soon moved on to Seattle in 1959, completing High School a year later.

In 1961 he enrolled at the University of Washington, majoring in drama, but also studying philosophy and psychology amongst other subjects. In 1964 he married fellow student Linda Emery and they went on to have 2 children.
Statue of the movie star Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars of Hong Kong

Best remembered for his 5 major feature films, namely The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973) and The Game of Death (1973), Lee became an iconic figure throughout the world but predominantly to the Chinese as he portrayed Chinese Nationalism in his work. 

His films sparked a surge of Chinese martial arts popularity throughout the world during the 70s and beyond.

At the height of his popularity, Lee collapsed in May 1973 whilst working on Enter the Dragon at Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios. Suffering from seizures and severe headaches, he was rushed to hospital where he received a diagnosis of cerebral edema.

Six weeks later, he was due to have dinner with former James Bond star George Lazenby (remember him?) to discuss a future movie role, when being struck again with another headache. He was given a painkiller and went to lie down and rest at about 7.30 in the evening.

But when not arriving for dinner, film producer Raymond Chow went to his apartment to check on him, but was unable to raise the star. A doctor was summoned who also tried unsuccessfully to revive him and Lee was pronounced dead on arrival at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Many conspiracy theories still exist surrounding the death of Bruce Lee, including supposed murder by the Triads and curses placed on his family, but at the time it was ruled as “death by misadventure.”
Laid to rest at Lakeside, now joined alongside by his son Brandon

Laid to rest in Lakeview Cemetery in his adopted home city of Seattle, the pallbearers at his funeral included Steve McQueen, James Coburn and the aforementioned George Lazenby.

Bruce Lee was named by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century and as recently as April 2013, he posthumously received the prestigious Founders Award at the Asian Awards.