A while back I completed my Doctorate, and as a reward to self I had decided to get a tattoo. I spent a long time thinking about the meaning behind a design, and even longer finding a tattooist who would be competent at doing it for me.


That’s my mock-up, above. It’s a mashup of a few images I have found on the ‘web. The basic idea is full-sleeve, with the ship on my upper arm and the kraken on my lower-arm, with tentacles wrapped everywhere. As I flex my arm, the kraken is fighting the ship.

2010.03.16 22-08-04a

That’s not my body, too bad. But I’ve overlaid a version of the tattoo over it to give some idea about the size and layout. Pretty big, and for someone who is deathly afraid of needles it will be an interesting challenge.  I’m told it is many hours’ work.

Well, over a year ago I plonked down a deposit. I’m still waiting. That doesn’t bode well for the tattoist’s reliability, but nonetheless I do like his work – a lot – and I now have an appointment set for 24th this month.  Now that’s happened twice before (that is, an appointment date was set). But this time it’s pretty much all or nothing for me, as I’m going to abandon all hope if it doesn’t go ahead.

I have a lot of meaning in my design…

First, there’s a quote from Sir Isaac newton – famous scientist from a few hundred years back going something like…

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
so, the ship itself – it represents “The Beagle” as used by Charles Darwin on his voyages where he came to his theory of evolution. visited Hobart in the early 19th century…
The flag flying on the mast is the “pirate fish” flag – it’s a well-known atheist symbol (of Flying Spaghetti Monster fame).
The ship is effectively the ship of knowledge and it’s sailing on the great ocean of TRUTH, as per the Newton quote. And the kraken represents the great unknown
The basic meaning is that no matter how well you think you know how things are, how you are confident of your fate, there is always the great unknown (kraken) bearing down on you. And the moral/story is this…
1) be thankful for what you have; you never know what’s coming for you, and
 2) never give up
so that’s the basic meaning
The reason for the tattoo is a reward to myself for sticking with my studies and achieving a goal. It’s also a strong statement of my atheism and belief in science and knowledge as being important.

Slide Rules

Back in about 1995 I was in the USA and visited a pawn shop in Iowa near the border with Illinois. I think. In the window I spotted what I kind of knew wasn’t a ruler, kind of new was a mechanical calculation device, but didn’t know much else.

I recall my grandfather had one in his desk. Not of much interest to me, but then again I do remember it, and that would be some 40 years ago now.

So, I bought the thing. It was a slide rule, of course. I searched the internet and didn’t find much about them. Since I was relatively new to this interweb thing – I first signed on somewhere in 1992-1993 – and wanting to understand how web pages worked, I started writing about the slide rule.  I created a handcrafted site I called “the Slide Rule Trading Post” – known as SRTP for short.

You can find it on the wayback archive

Over the years that site expanded, and I wrote a couple of Java-based slide rule emulators. The web’s very first one was “JavaSlide” which was online for 4 years or so, until I got a nasty “cease and desist” letter from the fucking idiots protecting the Java trademark. Apparently I was in breach by using the word Java embedded in the name of the thing. I had the option of changing the name, or getting sued. I chose a third option – remove the program completely and, basically, fuck ’em.

This wasn’t the only time I ran foul against intellectual property lawyers. I also had a run-in years later with Atari – for I had registered (and still “own”) the domain – I sold my soul to the devil to keep that one, and much to my enduring disgust I lost a lot of content because of the “take down or else” letters I received. Still a rather bitter feeling, as there are limitations on what I can put on “my” site. So it’s basically “empty” but still “mine”.

I did end up creating another java-based slide rule, which was kind of a configurable build-your-own version.  I mostly got it working, but eventually lost interest. That one was called UniVirtual and I note that it is no longer online. I couldn’t even remember its name, it’s been so long.

Anyway, a long time after SRTP was established, I was manually operating a forum, hand-hacking HTML pages to put visitors’ posts up, and replies, etc. It was becoming a bit unmanageable, so i started using eGroups, a mailing list. That took of rapidly, and before too long there were HUNDREDS of people joined up.  Eventually eGroups was subsumed by Yahoo! and there were a thousand or so members.  I was the head honcho, and ran it with an iron fist. Ha!

As with any group online, there were various issues with people being fuckwits and all that. I generally managed things pretty well, but one day one guy accused me of being “a little Napoleon”. I thought about how to respond to that, not sure of the timing but I think I had banned this person at some stage. I decided the best option was to abdicate and open up the ownership of the list to a popular vote – and so I did that, passing ownership to Michael O’Leary.

The first action of Mike was to permanently ban my accuser, as he had rather less patience for fuckwits than I did.  And so, I faded into the background – so I thought.  But I still kept in touch with the early adopters of the site, and had a few good friends.  I have a few stores there, hopefully I will get to those…

Anyway, rough times come and go, and I had mentioned to one of my slide-rule friends that things were pretty tight. One day he contacted me and said that he was sending me a gift – to look out for a delivery. Well, it came – and bugger me dead – a very large $$$ thank-you from my friends at the slide rule group.  I cannot begin to express how stunned I was to receive such a wonderful gift. It made a huge difference to my partner and I, and I remain eternally grateful.

Some time later, Michael committed suicide. Very sad, and the group also stepped-up to help support his child. Just a really close-knit and great bunch of people.  Except for the occasional fuckwit, of course – the particular one I have in mind is still a member of the group. People change, and I don’t particularly want to hold grudges. We all have our own issues and problems.

I have visited the USA a few times over the years (I live in Oz). A couple of times I’ve visited my slide-rule friends – one in particular I remember well. I was in Texas and took up an offer to visit with a long-time member of the slide-rule group.  He picked me up from the airport in a 70s power car. Don’t remember much about it, but perhaps it was blue. Anyway, the drive was interesting, and we were weaving back and forth and basically just avoiding accidents.

Texas was interesting for someone like me who lives in a society basically without guns. When we went to the flea-market equivalent there were guns everywhere. Kind of scary. I remember a lovely chap named ‘Big John’ – very keen on having his six-shooter on his hip and basically adamant that nobody messes with him. Completely different society and attitude. I didn’t particularly feel like arguing, particularly as an invited guest – but I also felt completely unsafe in such an environment.

So anyway, the lovely gent I stayed with for the weekend advised me in a pretty strong way that I should probably remain in my room for the night, and NOT wander around the house. Basically because of booby-traps and all that. I didn’t want to get shot. Ooooo-kkkkkk, yep I’ll stay in my room.

At the end of the weekend, and a great one it was, my friend showed me why he had the place booby-trapped (and to be honest I kind of believed him – the place seemed like a fortress).  He took me to that small room which had padlocks and electronic locks, and asked me to put on some white gloves. We entered, and he carefully removed a box from a safe. Well, I don’t truly remember if there was a safe, but it was certainly a secured and locked room.  And inside the box was…

A pascaline engine.

Now I don’t know if you know what this is, but I certainly did. There were about 8 of these known to exist. Basically one of the very first mechanical calculators designed by Blaise Pascal in about 1643.

Pascaline Engine

OK, this was an unknown one. #9.  Worth about a million bucks, no kidding.  I spent an hour or so hovering around it, checking it out top to bottom. A very special time indeed.

Eventually I moved on from slide rules. They’re still fascinating, and my interest in slide rules took me on to soviet slide rules which soon took me into the secret world of soviet calculators, cryptography machines, and espionage – transporting soviet technology hidden in cereal packets and carried by scientists from Moscow to Germany.  I eventually got on TV to show my collection.

But that’s another story…





I was thinking about all the things I’ve been interested in obsessed about over the years, and it’s quite a list. Some of them are interesting, most of them unfinished. Well, it seems like that. I thought I’d jot down some notes and share some pictures.

Off the top of my head, we have…

Slide Rules – first the Slide Rule Trading Post, then JavaSlide the interactive slide rule (which was taken down via a cease-and-desist through use of the word “Java”) and eventually the International Slide Rule Group at Yahoo. Still going strong.

Calculators – specifically, Soviet Calculators. I ran the website Museum of Soviet Calculators for a number of years and “discovered” about a hundred different machines from the cold war era. The Soviet secret services almost certainly have a thick file on me, as I spent a lot of time communicating with members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and smuggling various technology in empty cereal packets from the East to the West.

Atari 2600 – Although I have a background in professional video game programming, I had never programmed for the machine that started it all, the Atari VCS/2600.  Back in 1996 or so I became interested and started to learn how it worked.  I wrote a tutorial how-to which is still in use today, and ended up programming two titles for the machine – Qb and Boulder Dash.

uWatch – I saw this gem one day online and just had to have it. A homebrew calculator-watch invented by David Jones in the early 2000s.  I soon joined with David and totally rewrote the user interface software. It included algebraic and RPN calculators, sunrise and sunset, played a mean game of chess, and of course was a dazzling wristwatch.  I actually wore this thing for a while.

3D Printers – I built myself a few mini-kossel 3d printers. I got to the stage where I could use the manual controls to move the head around and the filament feed was working.  Kind of abandoned, but maybe one day I’ll get back to it.  I became very active on with my designs for improved printer parts.

photogrammetry – this is the reconstruction of 3D representations of objects using multiple photographs of the object. It’s pretty cool technology, and I spent some time mastering this, including a nude self-portrait in 3D.  Still working with this today.

Those and more.  If I find the time, I may very well dedicate a post to each of the above, with pictures.