We start this tape with an episode of The Net already in progress. Here’s Professor Luc Soete telling us that the EU should tax the ‘digital economy’. His proposal is a flat rate tax on ‘every piece of electronic data flowing across European computer networks. He calls it the Bit Tax.’ Only a small amount. One cent per megabit. Which would work out at something like £200 for a two hour HD netflix movie.
Chris Wise, who works for an architect’s firm building prestigious buildings, is worried how this kind of Bit Tax would affect his business. They ship an enormous amount of data between offices. “We sent about One Gigabyte of information in drawn form from here to Germany and back again” over the course of designing a headquarters for a bank. Imagine that. One gigabyte. Meanwhile, as I type this, I’m uploading two gigabytes of video data to Youtube in the form of this episode. I hope I can afford the Bit Tax on that.
This all really seems to be an example of policy being decided by people who have never heard of Moore’s Law.
Next, Rupert Goodwins takes us to Comdex in Las Vegas. Is Comdex still going?
He’s talking about company T-Shirts with ‘horrific slogans on the back’ and this shot goes past. I wish I knew what it was covering up.
For someone who writes for PC Magazine, Goodwins certainly seems to have the requisite ‘Microsoft are an Evil Empire’ stance. We get a glimpse of Bill Gates at his keynote. Along with a dubious apostrophe.
The next item is about porn. “It’s impossible to say how much pornography is on the internet, but there’s no question it’s there.” That’s a statement that could be made about absolutely any subject under the sun. Fenella George reports.
Peter Dawe was the founder of Pipex, and after selling it for a fortune he founded Internet Watch, a charity watchdog concerned with online porn.
Cliff Stanford of Demon Internet would rather have a self regulating industry than government imposed censorship and restrictions.
Alison Mitchell, presenter of Money Box, talks about the web sites she likes.
The show rounds off with an interesting interview with writer William Gibson. He’s remarkably astute on most of what he talks about, and he’s honest enough to admit that his original conception of cyberspace from Neuromancer doesn’t bear much similarity with the internet as it was in 1997.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 20th January 1997 – 23:15
Recording switches to the end of Common as Muck followed by a trailer for the next episode. There’s also a trailer for Omnibus.
Then, another unmarked programme, and a nice surprise. It’s Breaking the Code, Hugh Whitemore’s play about Alan Turing, starring Derek Jacobi as Turing.
Prunella Scales plays young Turing’s mother.
Alun Armstrong plays the policeman to whom Turing reported a burglary, which led to his arrest and prosecution for homosexuality.
This is adapted from Whitemore’s stage play, and the roots are obvious. Long sections of the film are virtually monologues, with Jacobi explaining things like Godel’s incompleteness theorem, and his paper ‘On Computable Numbers’. It appeals to the nerdy side of me. The story of Bletchley Park, and the breaking of the Enigma and Lorenz code machines, is one of the most inspiring stories of clever people thinking deeply about problems and finding ways to solve them. In the case of the Lorenz cipher, which was the replacement for Enigma, and far more complex, the codebreakers at Bletchley Park were able to break the codes without ever having even seen one of the machines they were deciphering. Of course, the fact they had to build the world’s first digital computer, Colossus, in order to break it only adds to my admiration.
The other side of this drama, of course, is the hounding of Turing for his homosexuality. As this part of the story kicks in, I just start getting angry. There’s a scene, set in 1953, where Turing meets Pat Green, one of his colleagues at Bletchley Park, who had once fallen in love with Turing during the war. Turing tells her about the hormone treatments he’s having to take as a condition of his conviction. “I’m growing breasts.”
There’s a really interesting exchange in this scene. It’s set in 1953 and Turing talks about his work at Manchester University. “We’ve built a digital computer” he tells her, and the assumption is that this is the first. This play was written in the 80s, so I presume that the building of Colossus as the very first digital computer had not yet been declassified.
I visited Bletchley Park in December for a talk about the reconstruction of Colossus they’ve undertaken. All the original machines were disassembled and destroyed after the war, for security reasons, but a faithful reconstruction of the machine is now working at Bletchley Park. It’s quite impressive to see.
Harold Pinter appears in the final scene as John Smith, a government security officer, quizzing Turing on his holiday plans, and making it clear that he was being watched, and was considered a security risk.
Turing died of poisoning, from an apple laced with poison. It’s assumed he took his own life, probably due to this appalling treatment. There’s a coda, which talks about the naming of a ring road in Manchester after him, which I’m sure was intended to be a positive ending, but a stinky, polluted ring road isn’t really a fitting memorial to the man, so this comes off as just banal.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 5th February 1997 – 22:30
After this, there’s a trailer for Common as Muck, and a trailer for Crimewatch UK. Once again, I’m slightly taken aback to see Jill Dando.
Recording switches, and we have another episode of The Net. Again, the start of the programme is missing, which is annoying. What’s also annoying is that we seem to be missing a few episodes, as this one is a few weeks later.
The first item looks at Virtual Stonehenge, a project to recreate Stonehenge in VR, and other recreations of historical places and events.
Next, and tying in somewhat to the previous programme, Fenella George looks at the reconstruction of the Mark One computer at Manchester University, the digital computer Alan Turing told Pat George about in the play.
Tom Kilburn was the person who wrote the first stored program that was run on the computer.
Chris Burton of the Computer Conservation Society, was behind the preservation and reconstruction attempts.
Also featured was Leo, one of the first business computers, built by the Lyons company.
Dr John Pinkerton was the designer of Leo.
This piece turns into a look at the state of the UK computer industry. Nice to see a clip from Making the Most of the Micro.
Acorn co-founder Herman Hauser is investing in UK technology companies.
The piece ends with a look at plans to build the National Computer Museum at Bletchley Park, with Tony Sale, the man behind the rebuild of Colossus, which had been completed in the last year.
The next item sees NTK’s Danny O’Brien look at the new phenomenon of playing old games. Retro gaming.
Peter Cochrane, a futurologist working for BT, talks about leaving a vast store of memories on the net,
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 17th February 1997 – 23:15
The next episode is the last one in the series. The first item looks at a new wave of satellites with high resolution. Gil Amelio used to be a CEO of Apple.
These companies want to offer the high resolution satellite images commercially. I forget that this was quite a few years before Google Maps. The predicted offering would see you selecting the area you’re interested in on a map, and then the company would ship you a CD ROM with all the imagery they have in that area.
The next item is an interview with digital artist Jane Prophet.
The forthcoming General Election will be the first one since the Web became available, so the programme looks at what will be happening on the web during the election. Including contributions from Simon Waldman of the Guardian New Media Lab.
Someone has built what they call a Virtual Parliament, supposed to be some kind of cyberspace world where you can interact with avatars of politicians. God, VR in the 90s was uniformly awful, wasn’t it?
The last contribution is interesting. “A way for our politicians to gauge what public opinion is, like an enormous postbag, but a public postbag, so that everybody can see what everybody else is saying.” I think he’s just described Twitter.
Next, Tom Ray, a biologist, is experimenting in artificial life.
He’s working on a project to create a large ecosystem of digital lifeforms which can evolve. It sounds like a project I was involved in briefly at the BBC years later called ‘Evo Warriors’ which eventually became the children’s programme Bamzooki.
Trude Mostue, briefly famous as one of the training vets on a BBC documentary series, looks at virtual pets, including the first Tamagotchi in the UK.
The final piece is about the Net’s own VR community The Mirror. You know what I was saying about all 90s VR looking like shit?
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 24th February 1997 – 23:15
After this, recording continues. There’s a trailer for Modern Times. Then Weatherview with John Kettley. There’s a trailer for Open Saturday from the Open University.
Then, The Midnight Hour, hosted by Margaret Thatcher’s former press secretary Bernard Ingham. Tell me again about the BBC’s left wing bias?
The panel, rather surprisingly, is mostly women, with David Steel as the token man.
Labour is represented by MP Anne Campbell
On the Conservative side is Dame Angela Rumbold.
And the wildcard is Dr Sheila Lawlor, director of Politeia, a think tank which looks at the role of the state in people’s lives.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 25th February 1997 – 00:00
After this, there’s a trailer for Even Further Abroad with Jonathan Meades. Then the start of the Learning Zone when the tape ends.