Room 3 nostalgia

"... that Black Hole of Calcutta, Room 3 at the University Observatory ..." 1973-1988

Contents

  • The Realm of the Nebulae
  • Guess Who?
  • Picture Gallery
  • The Best Moment
  • Miscellanea
  • A Few One-Liners
  • [Link to Room 3 Slang]
  • [Link to the Complete Cast]
  • [Link to Astrognomes Junketting] - not a pretty sight
  • [Link to GALAXY Fortune Cookies]

  • The Realm of the Nebulae

    The backdrop: Yawning Spiresville, bicycles, magnificent stone façades and crenellations, waters and trees, a collage of quaintness, the setting of the dreams and despairs of the nation's young for hundreds of years. All a remote blur glimpsed whilst rushing between the Astrophysics Department and the Computer Centre and, occasionally, the Co-Op., the launderette or the railway station.

    The arc-light comes up once more: four or five gorillas cooped in a small chamber on a three-to-five-year cycle, grappling with disaster amidst an ever-rising tide of chaos - an experiment in madness perhaps? One might be groping with an eyepiece over charts for weeks on end, intermittently exclaiming "spiraux!" or "lentilismus!" in a Germanic professorial voice or muttering about the infestations of asterisms even at such a high galactic latitude. Another might be pounding grimly at a keyboard, screaming oddly as endless headbones grin from the screen, discovering that many previous long nights' work at the Computer Centre have just been trashed without salvation or unmasked as another exercise in random numbers. A third, obscured behind dangerously towering piles of journals stuffed with densely-hieroglyphed Hollerith cards, might be slumped unnoticed and long-dead from caffeine poisoning. Good preparation for some arduous posting at the bottom of the ocean, or in a high-security mental hospital, perhaps. Beyond the dusty windows, the agreeable University Parks lie peacefully untrodden below ancient trees (fewer after the year of the Dutch elm disease).

    The prologue: to explore the largest reaches of the universe entailed being closetted in the smallest chamber - the main similarity was the interminable timescale it took for things to happen. Many weirdnesses evolved as personalities grated chronically upon each other at point-blank range. In the end, Kindergarten seemed like the Athenaeum Club by comparison. Goodness knows what the Great Man's endless procession of visiting dignitaries from around the globe made of it.


    Guess Who?

    It is unpleasantly early in the morning. A couple of bedraggled undergraduates lurk unhappily on the landing outside, muttering.

    "Creak... hack hack SLAM trudge trudge hack hack rustle rustle mutter trudge trudge hack hack trudge trudge trudge hack hack bleaurgh hack trudge trudge trudge trudge hack trudge trudge trudge hack hack hack trudge trudge trudge hack hack bleaurgh ... pause ... SLAM"

    [The Great Man arriving downstairs, checking his mail, coming upstairs and entering his office next door 1973-1988 (foggy seasons)].


    Picture Gallery

    Please 'click' on images for a larger version (sorry, most of the pictures have still to be added):
    The Action Godwin [Link to 102 kb image]
    Boring Gnomism
    (door)
    [Image to be inserted]
    Coma on the ARGS [Image to be inserted]
    Curiosity Killed...
    (door)
    [Image to be inserted]
    The Headbone of A426.
    We had always suspected that there was something very seriously wrong with the Perseus Cluster.
    The X-ray picture shows what!
    [Link to 19 kb image]
    The Headbone of Death.
    Appeared on print-outs where a program crashed.
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    The Headbone of Welcome.
    Appeared when logging into the computer.
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    XXXXXX          XXXX        XXXX      headbone hunters' club
    XXXXXX        XXXXXX        XXXX           MEMBERS ONLY
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    JG at Desk
    (inner space)
    [
    The Six Phases of a Project
    1. Enthusiasm
    2. Disillusionment
    3. Panic
    4. Search for the guilty
    5. Punishment of the innocent
    6. Praise and honours for the non-participants
    Test Card on the ARGS.
    Mostly popped to screens at remote sites, to give them a thrill.
    Look what JPEG compression does!
    [Link to 27 kb image]
    Time Warp
    (door)
    [Link to 113kb image]
    View of Parks
    (window)
    [Image to be inserted]
    The one which got away: at one time the door to Room 3 bore an ever-increasingly-magnificent cluster of GALAXY chocolate wrappers (following a precisely-calculated projected density distribution) until one bright day some humourless functionary ripped them all away fearing the "impression" some visitors might form if they beheld such a spectacle.

    The Best Moment

    Probably the most breathtaking experience of my whole life was sometime in the 1980s when i was doing observational work up in the prime focus cage of the 150 inch Anglo-Australian Telescope. There was a slight pause in proceedings for some technical reason and the control room people went into a huddle. Meanwhile, suspended alone high up there in the dark, at the critical point of this vast international engineering triumph in the desolate outback of a huge continent in the small hours of the night, i looked down into the focal plane of the great mirror and saw with my own eyes ... a beautiful spiral galaxy filling the whole field of view, alive, with all its scintillating star clusters and fluorescing gas clouds, as God Himself might see it, against the velvet black of infinite space...

    Miscellanea

    There was the Episode of the Camembert, when somebody (JG) went on a three-week observing trip leaving the eponymous item locked securely in a filing cabinet. For months afterwards, any bread in the room immediately became furry.

    Certain utterances had to be banned as too inane, repetitive and infuriating for continued day-to-day survival. The list rapidly grew to several dozen and occupied a decent area of blackboard, although interestingly there was nothing obscene in it. A jar into which anybody uttering something on the list had to place their smallest coin rapidly filled up (and was of course stolen). Fortunately, most of the items on the list have been long forgotten; but they included the inevitable "Yee Hee Hee!", "Grim!", "Eek!", "Information Theory" and so forth.

    Much time and pains were dissipated in the calculation of whether the newly-detected diffuse intracluster emissions might typically be explained by ensembles of randomly-orientated gorillas in armchairs watching Angela Rippon delivering the evening news bulletin via average 26-inch television sets with 20AX colour tubes (including the infra-red output from the overburdened solid-state chassis of the day). Arguments about the new europium-activated red phosphors and their spectral signatures were also rife.

    When a particularly good idea was floated, its originator was awarded not just a light bulb, but a finely-crafted EF183 variable-mu high-slope frame-grid pentode.

    The Duo-Chrome Television, a luxury of the declining years, still languishes in a puddle in some forgotten garage together with mouldering ApJs, AJs, MNRASs and MemRASs back to King William IV's reign, PASPs and piles of innumerable tapes of PDS scans and IPCS spectra waiting to be graunched (and the rusting VAXen with which to graunch them) just before Judgment Day. I would happily live another life in which to do this, and slip down the queue into Heaven, if possible. Are you listening, bank managers?


    A Few One-Liners

    "NOW where is that damned woman?" "Oh, today it's the frog-jumping contest" (Person in question never returns again. In later life, denounces the strictures of the times)

    "The only initiative YOU'RE allowed is to pick up a pen ... and keep your nose clean" (subject of harangue having, in desperation, personally purchased a few boxes of computer tapes in order to get on with matters in hand)

    "You can't assume ANYTHING" (Sound life-view from a different, respected source: noted)

    "Time to rule a line under it, go home and feed the dog" (Consensual; with all respect to dogs and dogpersons everywhere, there was really no time to have a life)

    "I just thought you ought to know that ****** has been passing your ideas off as his own in the coffee room again ... well, I just thought I ought to tell you. Oh, well (sigh)" (Person in question subsequently has some success in politics)

    "... just more and more numbers ... damned annoying (thumps desk) ... I'm keeping him (new student) as far away from this room as possible"

    "I gather that there has been something of a reign of terror..." [playing: The Who: "Don't Get Fooled Again"]

    To all who have survived - well done!


    P.S: whatever happened to 'Britannia Bright'?

    Do you remember her? "...the friable walls of ashlared blonde stone..."
    Surely on a par with "...the dreaming dons colliding in the street..." Doesn't seem to be remembered on the 'Web, which is a shame... (with respects to Clive James)


    Jon Godwin
    skull@wolfbane.com
    [End of document of 7 October 2000, updated to 6 December 2007 (amended)]