Farewell, Ceefax: TV teletext service dies; nonsense pages immortalized in "Look Around You"

As Rob noted in an earlier Boing Boing post, the UK television teletext service known as Ceefax ("See Facts") has been terminated. So sad! It began in 1972. I remember staring at the chunky pixelly pages for hours in my hotel room, on my first visit to the UK in the 1990s.

Robert Popper, funnyman and Look Around You co-creator, says:

I thought I’d perk you all up by digging out the Pages from Ceefax, that Peter Serafinowicz and I made for our Look Around You DVD extras. They’re full of nonsense. Hope you enjoy the guitar I did too. Included here is an improvised modern classical piece. I was trying not to laugh while I played…

I remember these fake Ceefax screens well from the Look Around You DVDs. I had no idea Popper played the music, too. Brilliant. More below.

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How tide predicting, analog computers won World War II

Without Lord Kelvin, there would have been no D-Day.

There's some very cool science history in the September issue of Physics Today, centering around a collection of analog computers, developed in the 19th century to predict tides. This was a job that human mathematicians could do, but the computing machines did the job faster and were less prone to small errors that had big, real-world implications. David Kaplan, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee physics department, sent the links over. He says that these machines ended up being crucial and are a big, in-your-face reminder of the complications of living in a world without calculators:

"... it was particularly important during WWII in order to properly plan beach landings, but even without the war part I found it fascinating. We take this so for granted now, that we can crank out sin() and cos() values instantly, but that was not always the case."

We're talking about predictions a bit more precise than simply saying, "the water is low" or "the water is high." Physics Today explains why the behavior of tides was so important at D-Day and why the tide calculators were so important to Allied success.

As an Allied cross-channel invasion loomed in 1944, Rommel, convinced that it would come at high tide, installed millions of steel, cement, and wooden obstacles on the possible invasion beaches, positioned so they would be under water by midtide.

The Allies would certainly have liked to land at high tide, as Rommel expected, so their troops would have less beach to cross under fire.

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