The Anonymous Widower

Piney Point: Emergency Crews Try To Plug Florida Toxic Wastewater Leak

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on the BBC.

This is the introductory paragraph.

Emergency crews in Florida have been working to prevent a “catastrophic” flood after a leak was found in a large reservoir of toxic wastewater.

This Google Map shows the location.

Note.

  1. At the top of the map is an area called Tampa Bay Estuarine Ecosystem Rock Ponds.
  2. The reservoir appears to be in the South East corner of the map.
  3. There appear to be several chemical works to the West of the highway.

This second Google Map shows the reservoir at a larger scale.

Note.

  1. The picture in the BBC article was taken from the North West.
  2. The problem reservoir is right and above of centre.
  3. To its right is Lake Price, which appears to be the sort of lake to sail a boat and perhaps do a bit of fishing and swimming.
  4. Moore Lake to the South appears similar to Lake Price.

It looks to me that it is not the place to have an environmental incident.

This article in The Times says this.

Engineers are furiously pumping the phosphate-rich water into the sea to avoid an uncontrolled spill at Piney Point, whose failure could unleash a 20ft-high wall of toxic effluent.

Pumping it into the sea? Surely not?

I suspect there could have been a mixture of sloppy management and loose regulation, with minimal enforcement and I’ll be interested to see what recommendations are put forward by the inevitable investigation.

In my varied past, I was once indirectly involved, in the toxic waste that comes out of chemical plants. At the time, I was working for ICI in Runcorn and my main job was building designing and building instruments for the various chemical plants in and around Runcorn.

As they had hired me because of my programming skills, they asked me if I could do a few small jobs on their Ferranti Argus 500, which could be plugged in to both their Varian NMR machine and their AEI mass spectrometer.

With the former, to get better accuracy in analysis of chemicals, I would take successive scans of a sample and aggregate them together. The accuracy of the results would be proportion to the square root of the number of scans.

The second to my mind was more difficult and much more interesting.

This explanation of mass spectroscopy is from Wikipedia.

Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that is used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. The results are typically presented as a mass spectrum, a plot of intensity as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. Mass spectrometry is used in many different fields and is applied to pure samples as well as complex mixtures.

ICI at Runcorn had a lot of complex mixtures and the aim of my project, was to take a mass spectrum and automatically decide what chemicals were present in the mixture.

The mass spectra were presented as a long graph on a roll of thermal paper. I noticed that operators would pick out distinctive patterns on the graph, which they told me were distinctive patterns of chlorine ions.

Chlorine has an unusual atomic weight of 35.5 because it is a mixture of two stable isotypes Chlorine-35 and Chlorine-37, which produced these distinctive patterns on the spectra.

I was able to identify these patterns to determine the number of chlorine atoms in a compound. By giving the algorithm a clue in stating how many carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms could be involved, it was able to successfully identify what was in a complex mixture.

All this was programmed on computer with just 64K words of memory and a half-megabyte hard disc.

ICI must have been pleased, as I got a bonus.

One of the jobs the software was used for was to identify what chemicals were present in the lagoons alongside the River Weaver, which are shown today in this Google Map.

Note.

  1. The chemical works, which were part of ICI in the 1960s, to the North of the Weaver Navigation Canal.
  2. The two former lagoons between the canal and the River Weaver, which seem to have been cleaned out and partially restored.
  3. Was that a third large lagoon to the South of the River Weaver?
  4. There also appears to be a fourth smaller triangular lagoon between the canal and the river.

There certainly seems to have been a better clear-up in Runcorn, than in Florida.

I moved on from Runcorn soon after, I’d finished that software and have no idea how or if it developed and was used.

But the techniques I used stayed in my brain and were used at least four times in the future.

  • In the design of a Space Allocation Program for ICI Plastics Division.
  • In the design of two Project Management systems for Time Sharing Ltd.

And of course, they were also used in designing the scheduler in Artemis for Metier.

I

 

April 5, 2021 Posted by | Computing, Design, World | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is This The Most Important Door In My Life?

In some ways this is the most important door in my life.

It used to lead through into the superb banking hall of Lloyds Bank.

In the early 1970s, I was doing some programming for the bank as a consultant to a company called Time Sharing Ltd.

The purpose of the software was to take the banks costs and expenses and calculate how much each of the various actions cost the Bank, by branch,area and region.

I was working for one of the Managers; Mike Spicer, who worked under the Chief Management Accountant; C. R. C. Wesson, who I later knew as Bob.

I’d never met Bob and as Mike was away, Bob phoned me up one morning and asked me to run the software, as they’d just uploaded a new batch of data.

I duly did this from home, and checked that it had run successfully after cycling to Time Sharing at Great Portland Street. They then asked, if I could take the results to the Bank on my way home to the Barbican.

I was worried that I was not dressed for visiting the Head Office of one of the UK’s big banks. I was painting our flat and wearing a pair of ice blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. . Luckily, I had a carrier on my bike, for the couple of inches of fan-folded green-striped print-out.

I had been told to ring the bell by the side of the door in the photograph and despite the banking hall being closed, I would be let in.

I arrived safely about six and rang the bell.

Perhaps a minute or two later, the ornate and extremely heavy door slid aside  and a footman appeared, immaculately dressed in the Lloyds uniform of green tail-coat and top hat. He said. “You must be Mr. Miller!”

When I affirmed, he ushered me through and I offered him the printout. He then said, that Mr. Wesson would like to see me. I protested about my clothes, but he firmly showed me to the lift and pressed the appropriate floor. He added that Mr. Wesson would meet me at the lift.

It was the start of a very firm friendship.

Together we developed the software and produced loads of copious tables and graphs.

I learned a tremendous amount from dealing with the only innovative accountant I have ever met.

A lot of his philosophy found its way into Artemis.

One thing he told is that bankers when given a table of figures, always add them up to make sure there are no mistakes.

So I developed a technique in the Lloyds Bank software, where if money was allocated between various rows in a table, the total was always correct. If you round each row, this isn’t always the case.

I used this technique in the aggregation of resources and costs in Artemis.

Sadly, Bob died of I think cancer, a few years later!

I owe him a great debt!

October 9, 2018 Posted by | Computing, World | , , , | Leave a comment

Pick Your Own Hours With (Really) Flexible Working

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in today’s copy of The Times.

This is the first two paragraphs

More than 2,000 staff at PWC offices in Britain will be allowed to choose their own working hours under a scheme introduced by the accounting network.

PWC’s “flexible talent” initiative will allow people to apply for jobs, stating their skills and availability. It will then match the recruits to relevant projects on which they can work shorter weeks or work for only a few months a year

I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Although, in some ways, it’s a pity, that I’ve retired from programming.

Programming a computer system that could handle this problem, would have been right up my street.

Will PWC make me an offer I can’t refuse?

I doubt it, as they probably believe there are no capable programmers over thirty. And certainly not over seventy.

But then I’ve written four programs to allocate resources.

  • A Space Allocation Program for ICI in the early 1970s
  • PERT7 for Time Sharing Ltd.
  • The original Artemis.
  • Artemis for the PC.

All share the same basic algorithm that I first used for the Space Allocation Program.

But I’m certain, that everybody, who has programmed a resource allocation program, uses their own version.

 

August 31, 2018 Posted by | Computing | , | Comments Off on Pick Your Own Hours With (Really) Flexible Working

Starting To Program Again!

I have had, this idea for a mobile phone app and as before my stroke, I was a more than capable hack programmer, I think I might program it myself.

I notice there are systems that allow the creation of apps, that work on all platforms, so feel that this would be the way to go, as if it’s one thing I hate it’s having anything to do with Apples and their alien money-grabbing ideas.

I don’t even like the fruit!

Any help would be appreciated!

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Computing | , , | 4 Comments

Now That’s What I Call A Robbery!

I was once called one of the Top Ten programmers in the world and as that was before I wrote Artemis, it is a compliment to the guy who said it, that he spotted my talent early.

I’ve never attempted to steal any money using a computer, but I have certainly had a few ideas, that I’ve kept to myself, or used in the odd unpublished short story.  But this report on the BBC about how a series of cash machines were emptied, is completely unbelievable. Here’s the opening paragraphs.

Researchers have revealed how cyber-thieves sliced into cash machines in order to infect them with malware earlier this year.

The criminals cut the holes in order to plug in USB drives that installed their code onto the ATMs.

Interestingly, the crooks emptied the machines of the higher value notes first, so they could be away quickly.

This illustrates one of the big faults of the euro., compared to the pound.  There are so many large notes in circulation, that the currency is a criminal’s and a money launderer’s dream.  I don’t like large notes anyway!

I suspect it was an inside job, in that someone who worked for either the bank or the cash machine company was the guy behind it all.

But of course, these days, where software is produced under contract by those in far off countries, is it any wonder you get crimes like this?

I wound never put anything more than working petty cash into a bank or building society, as they’re all vulnerable to be taken out by a gang of clever hackers.

And they are a lot less vulnerable if all those in charge of the computer system and those who program it, are actually employed by the company.

Sadly, this is no longer always the case, as various calamities in the banking industry in the last few years has shown.

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Computing, Finance, News | , , | Leave a comment

Abbey National Lives

On Wednesday, I  got some money out of a cash point machine in Bethnal Green.  It was a branch of Santander and it was close to a bus stop, so was convenient, as I was waiting for the bus.

This morning, four days later it appeared on my on-line bank statement fully annotated.

Cash machine wdl Abbey

According to Wikipedia, Abbey was rebranded as Santander in 2010. But obviously, they haven’t updated the computer systems.

It seems to me, that millions of crap programmers are alive and well and working for banks.

August 24, 2013 Posted by | Computing, Finance, World | , | Leave a comment

The Same Name Problem

The two names I habitually use aren’t the most uncommon and I’ve met more than a few individuals, who use the same pair of names. I also own the .com domain for the names, which must give me a certain precedence.

But at registration for my P&O cruise, I found that I was not alone and because of this my account was changed to the first name that only my mother, my passport, HMRC and the DWP use. It worked after a fashion, although some staff seemed confused that I was travelling under a different name. But checking my statement after the cruise, there doesn’t seem to be any charges that I hadn’t made.

It did give me a bit of a problem with the wi-fi, as my Samsung tablet computer has my used name in its memory and always used that, which meant, there was a lot of typing at each login.

I have a feeling, that their system hasn’t had the requisite amount of testing.

You can always rely that when you program a computer, there will always be a set of obscure circumstances, that you feel will never happen.

But of course they will!

In this case of course they did, but no financial harm was done to any party involved. I just suffered the login inconvenience.

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Computing, Transport | , , | 2 Comments

The Man Who Outsourced Himself

This curious tale shows the power of the Internet. an obviously intelligent employee in the US, got a consulting firm in China to do his job, using the Internet.

I bet he’s not the only one who’s doing this!

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Computing, News | , , | Leave a comment

Now Lloyds And The Co-op Drop Us In It

Captain Mainwaring would not have been amused, as yesterday Lloyds and the Co-op seem to have had system errors, or as I prefer to call them programming bugs, in their computers. It’s here on the BBC.

It may have been unrelated but one of my credit cards wouldn’t work on-line yesterday and they asked me to phone them.  They said they were just rebooting the computers, and it should be OK in a couple of hours. Do we reboot computers, as we generally give them a good kicking first?

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Computing, Finance, News | , | Leave a comment

Bank Transfer Traceability

One thing that annoys me about on-line banking, is that when you pay a bill like a credit card, you often can’t trace it at both ends, as often the reference doesn’t appear for some days.  So now, I usually pay them making sure the last two digits are the day of the month. That way it becomes obvious, if the transfer has been made and what it was.

It really all comes down to the fact that banks do not provide full information on their statements. And when they’ve not got it, they don’t even give you a clue!

I would be ashamed if I’d designed such a poor system.

September 19, 2012 Posted by | Computing, Finance | , | 3 Comments