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Let's Dream New Dreams

Sunday, 24th June, 2001

The news came via mobile phone.

'Go outside and look down towards the Pump Room. You'll see why,' said Dan. 'I'm on my way.'

Intriguing, I thought. What was going on outside the pub? There have been marching bands passing through Halifax on occasion, but I couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary. They've had little sales in front of the pub before too, but Dan implied that this was urgent, an Event. So I put on my boots and grabbed my camera and walked round the corner.

And there, right there, almost perfectly framed between the two rows of houses on either side of the street was what looked like a black tornado. Great spurts of dark cloud billowed up into the air, revolving slowly too like a giant funnel. Its sheer power took it hurtling up into the sky, far higher than anything around it, the hills included. Something was alight, and it was something big.

The Saturday afternoon drinkers had found their way out into the daylight, obviously in good humour. 'Well I haven't been to the loo for three pints. Let's go put it out.'

Much of this end of Halifax seemed to have found their way out into the daylight too, making the little iron bridge far busier than I'd ever seen it before. Nobody seemed to know what was aflame and the discussions were raging along with the fire.

I took a few pictures from the end of the bridge, trying to frame a moving target so that I could highlight its size. The cloud was very distinct against its surroundings: its blackness didn't affect the greenery of the gardens in the foreground. Soon a train thundered through into Halifax station right below the cloud. I found the contrast I was looking for. Eventually I headed down the winding steps below me that curve under the railway track and came out on a path that led right up to the fire.

It was a building that had gone up, what looked like an old mill building. Some said foundry, others said storage. It certainly wasn't part of Mac's - the huge chocolate factory next door, source of no end of jokes from the attendant throng of firewatchers. Most were just standing and watching, as if a huge out-of-control fire was just another place to socialise. A few, myself included, were manoeuvring for the best position to get the most effective camera angles.

I must have been doing something right, as one young lad asked me if I worked for the paper. I don't, of course, but at least he was being intelligent, unlike the idiot kid behind him who came out with this gem: 'Er, why are they putting it out?'

They were putting it out by this time. We watched the fire brigade arrive and examine the situation. I have a feeling my best pictures are going to be with the few firemen as tiny dots in the left hand corner of the frame spraying an equally tiny spray onto the raging inferno. It would take a while but, in keeping with history, this David would conquer his Goliath. Today there will be a mere shell.

Apart from the sheer spectacle of nature at her most belligerent, today highlighted to me in a number of ways just how much technology is throwing opportunity after opportunity our way. Dan and I liaised by mobile phone at the scene, while we snapped picture after picture from different locations. My film will have to wait to be developed but Dan has a digital camera that also takes fifteen second video clips. I popped up to his house an hour or so later to view them: all he needed to do was plug in a cable and copy them to his PC.

Mobile phones and digital cameras: wonders of modern technology. They weren't the only ones that came to light today either. When I headed out to see this Event, I was organising some new mp3s, the root of a long-standing but now fulfilled dream.

When I first found out about this technology, many years ago, I had a vision of a large hard drive, say a huge 30 GB or so, that contained my music collection. I could sample in my LPs, my tapes, my CDs and have them all available for instant access on a single hard drive. That dream took a long while to come to fruition, but the reason I was organising was because the music is overflowing from my 76 GB drive. I will buy another one in a few weeks time. I have my instant music collection with 20,000 tracks instantly available anywhere on the network that spans my house. Music in mp3 format: a wonder of modern technology.

And talking of networking... another long standing dream from even further back into personal history finally reached reality yesterday too. I've known Dan for nearly twenty years, since his family moved into Barkisland so that his father could become our new curate. My dad was head of the local church aided school, and with my family's high priority in local church matters at the time, our paths crossed frequently and we've been friends ever since.

Back then we were starting out in the world of computing. Both of us had access to the new technology of the PC: my dad had bought one for the whole family to use and Dan's had one through the church. I was adapting my Acorn BBC background; Dan had come up through the Dragon 32. We'd both come to the same place, however, and we set off on the journey into and beyond the PC together. Now we both work in the industry and share skills, advice and equipment wherever required.

Over ten years ago we had come up with the idea of networking our PCs together. By this time we had computers of our own and had many uses for a network. We shared files via floppy disc, not the most efficient way of copying data. We collaborated on software too; especially a game that we developed called Company, mostly at the hands of Dan. We also produced a village magazine together, as a follow-up to the church magazine that we had edited. So we wanted to network. The major catch was that we lived too far away from each other, at least a fifteen minute walk. We decided, with all the bravado of youth, that we would string a cable along the peaks of the telephone poles where nobody would notice it, but we never actually did.

Since those days, I've moved twice and Dan has moved more times than can be comfortably imagined. We've ended up a mere five minutes walk away, both in the centre of Halifax and our private network has become a reality. No, we didn't string a cable that far. Now, we understand things like signal degradation and maximum cable length. Instead we have gone the route of VPN, virtual private network. We tested last night and as the connection attached, I could see Viktor Frankenstein screaming to the sky, 'It's alive! It's alive!'

Back in those long adrift Barkisland days, Dan's dad had a modem and dialup connection to access resources at the diocese HQ, Church House in Wakefield. It meant that we discovered the world of bulletin boards and all the treasures that lay within. Now, we're both on cable modems, through the same company, with permanent high-speed connections to the internet. Suddenly, VPN becomes possible, and the two files that didn't send correctly by e-mail while I walked home from Dan's... well I just accessed his machine and copied them instead. VPN: a wonder of modern technology. We'll finesse the system of course, but right now it works, and, without trying to sound sappy, it's another long-standing dream come true.

What a day: mobile phones, digital cameras, mp3 drives, virtual private networks, all wonders of modern technology and all in everyday use. Now our dreams are real, let's dream new dreams and bring them to reality too.

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