Aug 20 2014

It’s lymphoma

I got the results of my excision biopsy yesterday morning. I’ve been told that I have a non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but that the prognosis is good with treatment – probably chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of both.

I’m back at work today, feeling rather tired and distracted, but at least my neck is more comfortable now that the stitches have been removed.

Thank you to everyone who has left messages of support in the comments of my last post, on twitter, through facebook, on the ‘phone, by email – and some were delivered in person too! They were all greatly appreciated.

I’m determined to stay positive throughout this experience, so please remind me of that if I ever start to sound too sorry for myself on here or elsewhere.

Time for me to get back to work!

Aug 16 2014

Overcoming my fear


I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.

Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

It’s been one heck of a week. On Monday morning I was contacted by the Derby Royal Hospital. They asked me to go in on Tuesday to see my consultant about the results of an MRI, ultrasound and needle biopsy that I’d had the week before. On Wednesday morning I had an operation to remove an enlarged lymph node from my neck so that a full biopsy could be performed. I go back again on Tuesday to have the stitches removed – and to find out what comes next.

I’m certain that talking and writing about what’s happening to me will help to defeat the fear of the unknown that I’m feeling. I shall prepare to face the worst, but carry on positively hoping for the best. It’s the changes that life brings which makes the journey worthwhile above all.

Aug 08 2014

A simple user interface?

Here’s one final piece of PAFEC memorabilia for the time being – the DOGS 4.4 Option Selector from 1993.

Getting DOGS to do something involved selecting two items from an on screen (or on-tablet) menu. For example, to draw a single straight line, you selected the menu option LINE, followed by the menu option 2. This example was known as an ‘executing option’, as until another menu item was selected, indicating two more points in the drawing area would result in another straight line. You could also select menu options by using ‘typed input’ mode and typing its abbreviation – LIN2 in this case.

Versions of DOGS prior to the 4.1 release used two letter abbreviation codes for menu items which still worked of course, meaning that vast libraries of parametrics (the DOGS programming language used to create automated scripts based on sequences of commands) built since the first releases of the early 80s still worked. The move to three letter menu item codes became necessary as an increasing number of functions that had been added over time had ended up in some rather strange places on the menu.

Providing a printed card was an engineering solution to the graphics terminals of the day not having the space to display large amounts of text or graphics to describe the purpose of each option. The option selector therefore allowed the drawing area to be maximised.

The 4.4 option selector was double-sided, folded into thirds. It was introduced following research indicating that the earlier and larger menu cards designed to fit on a digitising tablet were seen as being too cumbersome. Customers who still wanted to use the menu card on a tablet were provided with a DOGS parametric that enabled one to be printed.

The last of the six images has an old (0602) Nottingham telephone and fax number on it, along with the PAFEC telex address. Company email addresses were probably still a year or two away for us at this point …


Aug 05 2014

PAFEC – The DOGS 3.1 SCURS Comment Block

This comment block, from the SCURS subroutine of DOGS 3.1 should bring back memories for former colleagues. The copy I have in my possession runs to just over 14 pages and has my provisional edits (dated 24th October 1985) for DOGS on the Sun-2 workstation using a Bitpad 1 compatible tablet. Seeing the lines of code starting IF (ITYPE.EQ.111) GOTO 395 again certainly brings back memories.

The SCURS comment block from DOGS 3.1, October 1985.The aim of SCURS was simple, but because of the ever-growing number of different graphics terminals, workstations and input devices DOGS supported, it had started to become unwieldy and became almost indecipherable by the release of DOGS 3.2 in 1986. DOGS 4.1 replaced SCURS with a structured library known as PUGS (PAFEC Universal Graphics System) used by Tektronix, Westward, Sigma and other graphics terminals, with a variant called LIONS used on Sun, Apollo, HP and other 32-bit workstations.


Aug 03 2014

PAFEC – Photographs of Strelley Hall, 1990

I have singularly failed so far to find my copy of the staff photograph from 1986, taken on the lawn at Strelley Hall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the company. I’ll keep looking, but in the meantime, these are the photographs of the hall taken in 1990 by Derek Barley, who also provided the pictures of the Stapleford office for my earlier post.

The first picture is of the stables, with one of the PAFEC vans parked outside. I spent the first 18 months or so of my working life after university in the stables and I remember it being particularly cold during the winter of 1985/86, when my rear-wheel drive Skoda Rapid 120 was one of the few cars able to make it safely along Strelley Lane one snowy morning.

The stables at Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.A couple of nice photographs of the main entrance to the Hall …

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.… and one taken from the terrace on the left-hand side of the main entrance, looking towards Strelley Church.

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.Finally, one of the resident chickens!

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.

Aug 02 2014

Should I go to Glasgow for the DOP conference in January?

I’ve really been enjoying the Commonwealth Games over the last few days, even though my view of them has been from my armchair at home, supplemented by a few quick, surreptitious glances at the BBC website while I’ve been at work, rather than from the venues in Glasgow. However, an event in Glasgow that I’m currently considering whether to attend is the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in early January 2015.

While the full (non-residential) cost of the conference for BPS members is £317 (rising to £357 for registrations received after 20th October) for a non-residential package, they’re currently offering a reduced rate to postgraduate students of £179 for the 3 days of the conference, which looks rather more affordable. First time attendees (which I would be) are also offered the chance to team up with an ambassador, as a way of breaking the ice and meeting new people to network with – always a useful thing to do at conferences.

Details of the programme are still a little sketchy at the moment, presumably because the deadline for submissions isn’t for another few days, but the keynote speakers they have announced sound fascinating. As I’m involved in helping organisations to adopt business process management as part of my day job it would be of professional, as well as academic interest to be able listen to Dr Helen Bevan.

I’m still undecided as to whether to take the plunge and register, so if anyone reading this has been to a previous conference, I’d love to hear about your impressions and what a MSc student might learn from attending.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 31st July 2014.


Aug 01 2014

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I like a challenge. So when @post40bloggers tweeted this suggestion for something to write about earlier on this week, I started to think about what my answer might be. After all, there must be something that I’d want to change about my past? It’s a dangerous game though. Consider, for example, the views of two fictional doctors:


People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly … timey wimey … stuff.

This first quotation is probably more recognisable than the second I’ve chosen, as it comes from David Tennant’s performance in the Dr Who episode, ‘Blink’ (the one with the creepy statue things in it). It’s an interesting, if scientifically illiterate view of time, neatly side-stepping the usual paradoxes that would occur if you were able to go back in time and change something in your past. It’s the impact of those paradoxes that I’m scared of – any change I might make to my history could have all kinds of unforeseen consequences. On the whole, I’m very happy with my lot – and I’m not a gambler!


Of course, I realise that it’s nonsense to think of one’s life as a meaningless detail rapidly receding into a mass of other meaningless details. But I confess that the thought has occurred to me from time to time.

This quotation is rather more obscure. It’s from Booker-prize winning author J.G. Farrell’s hugely underrated third novel, A Girl in the Head. I’ve chosen it because I partially subscribe to Andy Warhol’s view that everyone will have 15 minutes of fame. My contention is however that for most people, those metaphorical 15 minutes won’t come in a single lump. Instead, they will be found in moments here and there, spread throughout our lives. In my view, these moments are so small and fragile, that to accept an offer of travelling back in time to change something that might damage them is unthinkable.

I bet you’re guessing that I’m going to say that I want to change nothing at all. However, the question asked doesn’t specify that the change has to be something in my life. I freely acknowledge that I’m operating using a set of double-standards, but, my blog, my rules.

So my ‘change one thing’ is simple and incredibly self-indulgent. Forty years ago yesterday, Brian Clough joined Leeds United as their manager. That move didn’t end well. In my view, he should have stayed at Derby County and won us more championships and the European Cup, rather than doing so with our East Midlands neighbours and eternal rivals Nottingham Forest a few years later on in his career. I want to go back to 1973 and stop him from writing his resignation letter.

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