The day I didn’t meet Douglas Adams was a Thursday. I’m not sure of the month or year, but I do remember it was a Thursday – I thought it was rather appropriate. That, by the way, was a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ reference. If you didn’t get that you might be better off reading another blog.
It was in Cambridge, where I didn’t meet him, which was also rather appropriate as Douglas (I can call him Douglas as I never met him) was both born in Cambridge and went to university there. I did not go to university in Cambridge, but at the time when I didn’t meet Douglas, I was working at Nottingham University. I was a Macintosh Research Station. Actually, I was part of a larger multi-media development group, but as I was the only one using the Mac, and we were sponsored by Apple, that made me ‘the station’, or so I liked to think.
The Apple sponsorship took the form of the use of their very latest computer – one that incorporated ‘Hypercard’. I was using this rather fab little program to show how, if pictures and information are classified using the BBC’s hierarchical Telclass system, a specially written search engine could assemble a subject node, without using text searching. This method could, in theory, produce ‘new’ information not noticed at the time of classification. Yes, pretty cool – Douglas would have been excited I am sure, if we had ever met.
Apple were impressed, when I did my demo to them. I’d assembled a short subject node about tigers with drawings I’d done of tigers and mammalian locomotion, muscles and the like. They stood behind me and said:
‘Wow, where did you get those great pictures of tigers?’
‘Err, I drew them.’
‘What, with a mouse?’
Because of my expertise in drawing tigers, or – hopefully – the possibilities inherent in picture and text classification for information retrieval, I was invited to a meeting at the Apple Centre in Cambridge.
It was on a Thursday. Douglas Adams was to be there.
It’s hard to explain the influence that Douglas Adams’s mixture of comedy and science fiction writing had on a certain subsection of the young adult audience at that time. So I’m not going to bother. Suffice to say I knew that this was going to be one of the most important days of my life and we would undoubtedly be new best friends.
Douglas didn’t turn up. Of course, this is the man who famously never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Douglas never turned up and thanks to “Moore’s law” which points out that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years, nobody really got that interested in the possibility of classifying images in computing. It was better to just crunch the numbers. Apple eventually took their computer back.
I did however get a very nice Apple pen at the Cambridge meeting and I did go on to write my own book. It’s a mixture of comedy and fantasy. This is a picture of the book cover and also the very nice Apple pen, which I kept because Douglas Adams could have written his autograph with it – if we had met. I didn’t write the book with the pen, I used a PC.
Somebody the other day did say my book was “a bit like Douglas Adams”. I’m not sure about that. I just like to think he would have enjoyed it, if we had ever had a chance to meet of course.