PCTopTips began in 2005 as a spin-off from my BootLog website,
which remains the primary archive for my work over the past 30 plus years.
Originally PCTT was just meant to be a home for my burgeoning collection of
computer tips and tweaks and links to useful software but it has taken on a
life of its own and these days it's where you will find previous editions of my
Houston We Have A Problem... columns for the Daily Telegraph (Saturday edition,
in the Review Section)
I drifted into journalism in the late 1970s whilst working for TV
makers Ferguson where I became something of an expert in the field of
ultrasonic remote controls. Go on, ask me anything... To while away the hours I
began submitting articles to a magazine called Electronics Today International
(ETI). Long story short, a job came up, I applied and in no time at all I was
an Editorial Assistant on Computing Today, one of the first computer magazines
in the UK.
I went on to write for and edit various magazines for the company,
including ETI, Hobby Electronics, Citizen's Band (we helped to get it legalised
in the UK, good buddy), Video Today and Which Video? I left the company in the
late 80s to launch and edit a short-lived technology mag called Next...It was
way ahead of its time, so much so that it lasted only a year and after it
folded I went freelance.
Since then I have written for more magazines than you can shake a
stick at -- mostly computer, consumer electronics and security and surveillance
titles -- various newspapers including of course the Daily Telegraph, written
half a dozen books, and learned to fly. I live and work in South London with
Jane, my long-suffering partner, mentor, co-director and website workhorse, our
son Alex, soon heading off to uni, our daughter Katie who is already there but
pops by now and again, plus two mad cats.
In my advancing years I have developed an unhealthy obsession with
1960s technology. It's the sort of stuff that I once owned (and stupidly threw
away). I collect early transistor tape recorders. I'm mainly interested in
miniature reel-to-reel models, the sort that used to turn up in sixties spy
movies and TV series. I've also got quite a few micro radios and pocket TVs
made by Clive Sinclair and a lot of old telephones, clocks and barometers that
I will definitely get around to sorting out one day.
No microchips, no software, just good old-fashioned electronics
and mechanical bits. It's technology I can still take apart, fix and put back
together again (though the Sinclair stuff was iffy even when new)...
If you are interested in old gadgets and have five minutes to
spare please pop along to my Dustygizmos website.
GEIGER COUNTERS AND ME
I became interested in nuclear radiation by accident -- quite literally -- back in April 1986. At the time Jane and I
were in an Aeroflot aircraft, parked in a remote corner of Gatwick Airport. We
had just returned from a trip to the Soviet Union, as was. During the closely
chaperoned tour we heard vague rumours of an industrial accident somewhere in
the USSR but it wasn't until we returned that we discovered that Chernobyl
Reactor number 4 had popped its lid.
Our plane along with all aircraft coming in from the USSR had to
be checked and decontaminated. Fortunately we were given the all clear but
being of a curious disposition, and with the threat of clouds of radioactive
dust floating over much of Western Europe I decided there and then that I needed
a Geiger counter.
They were then, and still are expensive and quite hard to come by.
Eventually I found some plans in an old electronic magazine that I used to work
for and set about building one. It was fairly crude but produced a satisfying
click every so often, more so when bought close to old luminous wristwatches
and Calor Gaz camping light mantels. .
My most recent brush with radioactivity occurred when Jane
underwent radiotherapy treatment for a thyroid disorder. This involved her
being injected with an iodine isotope, which resulted in her becoming
impressively radioactive for several weeks. I dug out my old DIY Geiger counter
and it still worked, providing us with hours of fun playing nuclear hide and
This reawakened my interest in Geiger counters and I felt sure
that the technology must have improved in the intervening 20 years. In fact
very little seemed to have changed. Geiger counters are still rarer than hen's
teeth and if you find one it's almost certainly going to be a big old army
surplus or ex-Civil Defence jobby costing the thick end of £100.
Eventually I managed to track down a number of modern, pocket-size
Geiger counters or dosimeters, designed for use in hospitals and the nuclear industry.
Needless to say were all horribly expensive but then I stumbled across the DRSB
88. It's made in Russia, by a company that supplies the military and Government
Anyway, the upshot of all this is Jane and I now
have a growing stockpile of Geiger Counters and Dosimeters and all sort of
other interesting radioactive paraphernalia, which we sell on our