A memorable Yuletide IT tale from the Hodsons

My great, great, great, great grandfather emigrated from Cork, in the South of Ireland, to Lancashire in the North of England. Being Irish, he had ‘the gift’, which is an ability to see the future. Combining it with the dourness of the Lancastrians (who in general run the UK) has led to some very interesting and odd characters in the family, including this writer. We even had one who was censured way, way back in the UK Parliament for spending a few rupees too many on some project in India.

One Christmas, not long ago, a great grandfather visited my fifth cousin, twice removed, who had recently acquired one of those modern devices known as a computer. The cousin very proudly showed off his recent acquisition to the great grandfather.

The following conversation took place, which goes to show that there is nothing new with modern technology — what goes around comes around. In order to keep the dialogue understandable, I have translated the indecipherable Lancashire dialect into what I hope is reasonable English.

Cousin: Great grandfather, come and see my new computer.

Great grandfather: It seems like one of these newfangled televisions.

Cousin: The hardware might look like that but it runs with software.

Great grandfather: I have never seen one of these at the ironmongers (Lancashire for hardware store), and how can it run with a woolen cardigan (named after a former UK general)?

Cousin: No, it needs Java for me to run it.

Great grandfather: “Now you are telling me it needs coffee, it must cost more to run than a car, even with petrol (Lancashire for gasoline) as high a price as it is.

Cousin: No, it is something I get from the hard drive or from a floppy.

Great grandfather: When I was a boy we had some hard drives such as you say in our horse and cart, particularly in winter going from Green Mount to Holcombe Brook (villages in Lancashire). But what is a floppy, has it something to do with floppy slippers?

Cousin: It is basically like a hard drive, don’t worry about it. In running the computer we fetch programs from the hard drive with the mouse and hope that there are no bugs to worry about.

Great grandfather: We had something very effective with bugs, I think it was called ‘flit’, but you had better call in the rat catcher to get rid of the mice.

Cousin: When we run the applications we also hope they won’t introduce viruses and worms.

Great grandfather: I remember reading about something called a virus at the end of World War I, it killed a lot of people. It must be very dangerous to get a virus, so be very careful. To get rid of worms just pour salt on them, it is usually effective, or bring in a few birds.

Cousin: I also have been having a huge number of problems with hackers.

Great grandfather: Why is that? They cut down trees and chop it for firewood bundles. If they give trouble just fire them.

Cousin: Computers are also very fast, using nanoseconds and even picoseconds. Great grandfather: You should be careful if you buy a second-hand piccolo.

Eventually, they returned to the family celebrations. When the old gentleman was asked what he had seen, he remarked, “There was not much new to be seen, almost everything seemed to be from my younger day and age.”

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Hodson is a theoretical physicist, speaker and writer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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