Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Act of God

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The ticket hall at Warszawa Centralna 25.2.2012. Photo BTWT.

I am not usually afraid of the dark, but as the lights flickered, the power sockets shorted and sparks and smoke flew out of the surge prevention block protecting Sextus, the G5 Power Mac, I confess that I was a little fazed.

But to begin at the beginning, I was about to travel to Lodz on the 21:49 from Centralna. As this was the last train of the day, I contrived to arrive in plenty of time: not only to catch my train, but also to inspect how the ‘revitalisation’ of the station was proceeding.

The main ticket hall was practically empty. Posters advertising the film, Dziewczyna z Tatuażem, added to the eerie atmosphere. How did the original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor (“Men Who Hate Women”) morph to the English version, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only to lose the dragon in the Polish release (“The Girl with the Tattoo”)?

A few passengers got on the empty 8-coach train. I settled myself comfortably in an empty compartment and settled down to read Frank Mildmay by Frederick Maryatt on my iPhone. Most of Maryatt’s naval adventures have a good-hearted, but naive youngster, as the narrator. He goes to sea as a midshipman in the British Navy and his character is licked into shape during the trials and tribulations that follow. By the end, our hero is a man, the villains are vanquished and the hero marries his sweetheart.

Not Frank Mildmay, the subject is an anti-hero. His decisions start out badly and he never quite manages to free himself from ‘the dark side’. As Maryatt begins to draw all the threads together towards the end of the book, Mildmay rushes headlong into disaster. Too much like real life to be good escapism, I thought.  So, as I had already downloaded quite a few other out-of-copyright books, I quickly switch to a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

As the train ran slowly on the track, I allowed myself a moment of satisfied reflection – with Ed Beale now running our narrow gauge section and John Savery taking over responsibility for standard gauge preservation – BTWT is at last on an even keel and nothing should disturb our target of daily publication. (Have you noticed that whenever you congratulate yourself that all is going smoothly, the wheel come off the bus?)

I return home and lean briefly against the wall to ease the weight of my legs. The lights flicker ominously and darken, then after a few seconds they blaze more brightly than they ever did before. Our power sockets crackle, sparks fly from the surge protector and the fuses blow.

This being Poland it takes two different electricians, and most of the following day, to restore decent mains power. We seem to have escaped lightly – burnt out power blocks. The main computer, Sextus, is down, but hopefully only the Apple Cinema Display power supply will need replacing.

We are lucky, we have escaped lightly compared to our neighbours. They have lost a couple of TVs, a fridge and a router. I buy a massive new Polish surge protector and five PL to UK power socket adapters. I order a new power supply for the monitor from China. I order two new power circuits for the flat.

This is being written on Quintus, my trusty 12″ Apple G4 PowerBook. Unfortunately my photographs and most of my programs are on the G5. I yearn for a couple of shots of Zubrowka, but alas, inspired by Michael Dembinski’s example, I have decided to give up alcohol and sugar for Lent.

Aren’t I being good? I hear the warning words again, Pride goes before a fall. As the late Frankie Howard used to say, Here endeth the first lesson!

Apple Centre in Grand Central

Monday, 2 January 2012

Apple Store Grand Central Terminal. Photo © Apple Inc.

As a proponent of both rail transport and Apple computers I could not resist picking up on the story about the new Apple Store at Grand Central Terminal. The store – Apple’s 5th in Manhattan – overlooks the 1913 main concourse from the station’s East and North East balconies. The store has 315 full and part-time employees who look after 45 display tables, covered with loads of lovely Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPods.

The original station on this site, Grand Central Depot, was built for railway and shipping magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt, at a cost of $6.4 million and opened in October 1871.  It served three railway companies – the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad – each of which maintained its own waiting room, baggage facilities and ticketing operations.

Between 1898 and 1900 the ‘Depot’ was expanded and its interior remodelled. Re-branded as ‘Grand Central Station’, its most prominent feature was an enormous train shed.  Built of glass and steel, the 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivalled London’s Crystal Palace as one of the most dramatic man-made interior spaces.  The updated station also featured a classical façade, and a 16,000 square foot waiting room.

But even before the ‘Station’ opened, the first links in a chain events had occurred which were to lead to its rapid demise. Responding to road congestion and road safety fears (real or imaginary) the Fourth Avenue Improvement Scheme had already buried the railway tracks below ground level from Grand Central Depot to 56th Street. But it was the new tunnel itself that was to prove a killer.

In 1902, a driver of an express train striving to make up for lost time in the smoke-filled tunnel missed a signal set at danger and ploughed into the back of a stationary commuter train. As a result of the collision and ensuing panic, 15 people were killed outright and 38 injured of whom 2 were to die later of their injuries. A campaign was mounted to do away with steam haulage and introduce electric traction.

The conversion of the line from steam to electric was costly, but electric trains do not need extensive locomotive servicing facilities, nor do they need a well-ventilated train shed. By doing away with the great wrought iron train shed of Cornelius Vanderbilt and building a brand new station with two levels of underground tracks, and putting the rest of the line underground, valuable real estate could be released to be rented or sold to pay the electrification bill.

The project was led by William Wilgus, the New York Central’s chief engineer. Twenty-five miles of water and sewer lines had to be removed or relocated, and more than three million cubic yards of rock and dirt excavated and hauled away. Two hundred buildings were demolished, and 60 million tons of concrete laid. Throughout the construction work trains had to be kept running. It was the most complex construction project in New York City’s history.

On February 15, 1907, electrified rail service began to the Westchester suburb of White Plains. The following evening, as a train left Grand Central, it sped around a curve and flew off the rails, killing 20 people and injuring 150, with wreckage stretching for over a mile. It was William Wilgus, the pioneer responsible for leading the New York Central Railroad into the electric age, who was to bear most of the blame. In July 1907, he resigned from the New York Central.

Excavations for the new underground Grand Central Terminus, while part of Grand Central Station continues in operation c. 1908. Photo Library of Congress.

(Click image to enlarge. Click here to see LoC record for the photograph.)

After more than 10 years of planning and construction a brand new ‘Grand Central Terminal’ officially opened at 12:01 am on Sunday, February 2, 1913, and more than 150,000 people visited the new terminal on its opening day. Though some construction work was to continue, New York had acquired a major landmark which was to act as a spur to further development in mid-town Manhattan.

19th century warehouses were demolished to give way to: the 56-story Chanin Building, the 54-story Lincoln Building and the 77-story Chrysler Building.  On Lexington Avenue, the Hotel Commodore opened in 1919, and the Graybar Building was completed in 1927, each with a passageway connection to Grand Central’s Main Concourse.

By the mid-1950s railways in the USA began a swift decline and the Railroad was no exception. In 1954 the first proposal was made to demolish Grand Central. In its place was to rise an 80-story, 4,800,000-square-foot (450,000 m2) cylindrical glass tower, 500 feet (150 m) taller than the Empire State Building. Though this plan was abandoned. In 1955, a proposal was made for a tower north of the Terminal replacing the Terminal’s six-story office building. A revised plan was approved in 1958 and the Pan Am Building was completed in 1963.

Although the Pan Am Building bought time for the New York Central, the decline of the Railroad continued. In 1968, facing bankruptcy, it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad had its own financial troubles and in 1964 had demolished the ornate Pennsylvania Station (despite pleas to preserve it) to make way for an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.

In 1968, Penn Central unveiled plans for a tower even bigger than the Pan Am Building to be built over Grand Central. The plans drew huge opposition, most prominently from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Six months prior to the unveiling of the plans, however, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Grand Central a ‘landmark’ – equivalent to the UK’s Grade 1 listed building status. Penn Central was unable to secure permission to build their tower and filed a suit against the city.

The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. The Court saved the terminal, holding that New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a ‘taking’ of Penn Central’s property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.

Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970 in what was then the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Title to Grand Central passed to Penn Central’s corporate successor, American Premier Underwriters which in turn was absorbed by American Financial Group. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority signed a 280-year lease in 1994 and began a massive restoration. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC, an investment group controlled by Argent Ventures, purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.

The MTA’s restoration was a triumph. The huge billboard advertisements on both side of the main concourse were removed. Its ceiling, showing the starsand constellations was painstakingly restored. The original baggage room, later converted into retail space was removed, and replaced with a mirror image of the West Stairs. Although the baggage room had been designed by the original architects, the restoration architects found evidence that a set of stairs mirroring those to the West was originally intended for that space.

The original quarry in Tennessee was located and reopened to provide matching stone to replace damaged stone and for the new East Staircase. Other modifications included a complete overhaul of the Terminal’s superstructure and the replacement of the electromechanical train arrival / departure display with a purely electronic display that was designed to complement the architectural aesthetics of the Terminal.

Now Apple have moved into the space formerly occupied by Metrazur Restaurant having reportedly bought out the eight years remaining on its Grand Central Terminal lease for $5 million. The Steve Jobs mandated minimalist décor blends perfectly with the restored building.

Apple’s latest store – Apple Store Grand Central – opened on Friday, December 9 2011 and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


P.S. Now how about an Apple Store on the balcony of the refurbished Warszawa Centralna? Come to think of it if the Grand Central Railroad managed to keep hundreds of trains running a day and construct a new underground station could not PKP do the same at Lodz Fabryczna?


Steve Jobs

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The front page of the Apple website on 6 October 2011.

(Click image to go to

Arguably no one has had a greater impact upon the way we use computers and other ‘smart’ devices than Steve Jobs who died yesterday in his home in Silicon Valley, California. Apple Computer Inc (now Apple Inc) – which Jobs incorporated with Steve Wozniak on January 3 1977 – was one of the first two companies to successfully launch a ‘plug and play’ low cost desktop computer, the Apple II. (The other was Commodore Business Machines with the Commodore PET.)

Apple, after launching the Apple Mac in 1984, became the first company to successfully exploit a computer whose screen resembled a desktop – a graphical user interface. The GUI had been developed at Xerox Parc, but Xerox’s own attempt to market a computer with a such an interface (the Xerox Star) was an expensive flop and Apple’s first attempt with the Apple Lisa was to fare little better.

In 1985, Jobs was removed from his position as head of Apple’s Macintosh division by John Scully, whom Jobs had himself recruited to the post of Apple CEO. Jobs resigned from Apple, sold all but one share of the company he had founded, and went on to form NeXT Computer. His hands-on approach to the design of the Next Cube was typical of Jobs’s strong focus on the aesthetic, but also meant that the first NeXT workstation was not to reach the market until 1990. NeXT computers were a technologist’s dream, but for its first 8 years NeXT was a business failure. The first WWW server was a NeXT Cube and the first Web browser was written on a NeXT computer.

By 1993, NeXT had only sold 50,000 machines and the company switched its efforts to developing and marketing the NeXTSTEP operating system, a strategy which enabled the company to become profitable. In 1996, Apple – which had been haemorrhaging cash – bought NeXT for $429 million, acquiring Jobs in the process. Jobs became CEO of Apple refocussed the company on developing the Macintosh which he reinforced with a much improved operating system, OS X 10.1, based on NeXTSTEP.

During Jobs’s long exile from Apple he became CEO of Pixar which he had bought (as The Graphics Group) from Lucasfilm. He intended that the company operate as a high-end graphics workstation developer. After years of unprofitability, Pixar contracted with Disney to produce a number of computer-animated feature films, which Disney would co-finance and distribute. The first film produced by the partnership, Toy Story, brought fame and financial success to the company when it was released in 1995.

Over the next 15 years more box-office hits followed: A Bug’s Life (1998); Toy Story 2 (1999); Monsters, Inc. (2001); Finding Nemo (2003); The Incredibles (2004); Cars (2006); Ratatouille (2007); WALL-E (2008); Up (2009); and Toy Story 3. In 2006, Disney agreed to purchase Pixar in a stock swap and Jobs became The Walt Disney Company’s largest single shareholder with some 7% of the company’s stock.

Since returning to Apple, Jobs has headed the company as it launched one hit consumer product after another: the iPod portable media player (2001) – cumulative sales by 2008 – 220 million; the iPhone (2007)  ‘smart phone’ – 130 million sold to date; and the iPad tablet computer (2010) – 30 million sold to date. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all run iOS, a mobile version of the Mac operating system. In August 2011, Jobs stepped downs chief executive of Apple. He had been battling an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant in 2009.

Behind The Water Tower is focussed on railways, not information technology. However the fact that day after day we can post stories with no interruption from hardware malfunctions, operating system crashes or virus attacks is in no small way due to the absolutely rock solid Apple Mac and Apple iPhone technology platforms which we employ and which are Steve Job’s enduring legacy.