Category Archives: nostalgia

The ghost of employment past

As is now semi-regular on a Wednesday, I had charge of Bud for the morning (dammit, that’s yesterday morning now – got distracted).  Great excuse for a walk and, in this season, a swim at Double Waters.

After lunch came the expected call from his daddy, and we wandered into town to return him.  I took the opportunity to use a cashpoint, and saw there at the bank a high-security van.  It was evidently loading/unloading high-value cargo: a man in full-face helmet and body armour was following an elaborate procedure involving locking himself securely in the van with his load before re-appearing and going back into the bank.  This happened a couple of times while I was there.

The van bore a G4S logo.  But what caught my eye was protected by DataTrak.  I haven’t seen that for a while, but in the distant past I worked for DataTrak, developing the technology.  Indeed, it’s one of the few jobs I’ve done where I was employed primarily as mathematician rather than as software/systems hack, and the work involved some serious maths, as well as programming the devices to run embedded in 128Kb (yep, remember kilobytes?  That’s how long ago) ROM.

Now, while the DataTrak work was (at its best) quite exciting, much of it had a clearly-limited lifetime.  The big investment in navigation infrastructure would be doomed to obsolescence if – as seemed likely – the GPS network became a viable alternative.  The data network had a longer lifetime but only until mobile telephony infrastructure offered a viable alternative at lower cost.  I have idly wondered what became of Datatrak after my time.

Actually, to be honest, yes I have googled, but seeing it again in real life prompted me to revisit it.  Seems it’s now a product of someone called Mix Telematics.  Yes, it’s moved to GPS and GPRS, but in terms of what the brochure tells us, it’s still clearly recognisable as what I once helped develop.

Here’s the site.


I’ve been too busy and/or knackered to blog from Cambridge, but now I have a spare moment.

I’ve just been to Cambridge with members of the Plymouth Philharmonic choir, who went for a summer jolly and gave two concerts – one in Ely Cathedral, the other in the chapel of St Johns College.

For me, this is a nostalgia trip.  I stayed at my old college (Girton) where long ago I spent four formative years, two of them living in the main building itself.  I took the time to wander the extensive corridors and grounds, and find reassuringly that very little has changed since my day.  Except, being outside term-time, the regular students aren’t around, and the place is busy with japanese students instead.  Where there is refurbishment it’s pretty superficial (carpet, lighting) and definitely not an improvement: the new lights are motion sensitive, and rather uncomfortably bright compared to the old ones.

In-town is also of course a nostalgia trip.  Apart from St Johns (which is one of the colleges I knew reasonably well, having had friends there as a student, sung in the chapel, dined in the hall, and partaken of the joys of a far better cellar than Girton could boast), I wandered the grounds of several other colleges.  But the summer is not a good time for this: many of the best places are closed against the tourist hordes (and you can see why, as you do battle against the crush to get from A to B).  My camcard got me past basic guards, and notably spared me touristy entrance charges, but only up to a point.  Clearly better to revisit in term-time.

One observation was that I really felt surrounded by academia.  Strikingly so.  Of course in my youth I really was at the heart of academe, but there was nothing striking about it: this was just the natural environment to be in after leaving school on an academic life path.  Or if you prefer, career path, though it’s been a big downhill since Cambridge.

Also in Cambridge, I went out for two nice meals.  One with pctony, at a veggie place he recommended and which turned out excellent: I need to find excuses to work through much more of their mouthwatering menu.  The other with the choir at a Cafe Rouge: again a very pleasant meal.  I think Cambridge restaurants have improved since my time, but it’s a little hard to judge because my budget back then wouldn’t have extended to these places.  Saw, but didn’t eat at, an old favourite: the old fire engine house in Ely.

In a final twist of nostalgia, I wandered down to the site of my old department (DPMMS) and main lecture halls, and found that the site and building of DPMMS from my time now appears to host CARET, pctony’s workplace!  I even recognised the carpark onto which the Part III (basement) room’s window opened, and recollected how we would curse drivers who ignored the signs telling them to park forwards, and pointed their exhausts straight into our room.

I must revisit in term time.  I even have a should-visit excuse: my oldest nephew is now an undergraduate!  Though I expect a young chap of his age to have better things to do with his time than entertain an old uncle.