“Well done, Mr. Armstrong”

As the late Neil Armstrong once said to the BBC’s Pallab Ghosh: “The dream remains! The reality has faded a bit, but it will come back, in time.”

I can’t watch either one of these historic moments again without thinking of the other, so I mashed them together.

Wot Grandad did in the war

When I was a kid I was very interested in amateur radio. This is hardly a surprise, since my dad was an electronics engineer at the time and his father an electrical engineer. I never got my licence, as it happens, mostly because I like to listen but I’m not so keen to hear my own voice. But I learned an awful lot from all those coils and condensers and ridiculously long aerials. In fact I learned a lot that I didn’t even really understand at the time but which comes in very handy for my present work. Understand radio and you understand everything!

Anyway, Dad was telling me recently about Grandad’s radio work during the war. His callsign was G2BPT, and I can imagine Grandad’s light Norfolk accent in my head, coughing politely and saying, “CQ, CQ, CQ, this is golf two bravo papa tango calling CQ.” Except in truth he probably only used Morse, so really it should be dah-dit-dah-dit, dah-dah-dit-dah, etc. But during the war, Grandad was a radio listener, writing down secret German messages that he picked up on his radio and sending them off to a mysterious post office box somewhere. Here he is with his wireless set:

Dad didn’t know very much about what my grandfather actually did, though, because of course people simply didn’t speak about such things at the time or even for decades afterwards. Walls have ears. He did show me one of Grandad’s message pads years ago and I’m pretty sure it was an Enigma message but that’s as much as I could say. But a few days ago Dad emailed to say he’d realized he’d been Googling for the wrong information: he’d been looking up stuff to do with the radio secret service, when in fact it was the Radio Security Service. So I just had a quick Google myself (Google is spelled  − −  .   − − −    − − −   − −  .   . −  . .   .   for you old folks) and came across this rather charming documentary about the Service, made in 1979. I thought it was really interesting so I thought I’d share it, partly because this year is Alan Turing’s centenary and this is my modest connection with that world, but mostly because I know a bunch of you are inveterate geeks just like me and will enjoy it…


Way to go, Grandad!

P.S. Who invented radio? If you say Marconi you aren’t geek enough! I came across this the other day and thought I’d help spread it. Nikola Tesla was a real genius, an oppressed hero and the owner of the mother of all spark generators. You might like to help preserve what’s left of it: http://theoatmeal.com/blog/tesla_museum