back to article Life's a beach – then you're the comms nexus of the British Empire and Marconi-baiting hax0rs

I'm sitting on a perfect sandy beach in dazzling winter sunshine which makes it feel two months warmer than it really is. The beach is nearly empty, although a couple of dogs are enjoying the surf. The nearest road peters out a few hundred yards up a steep valley – the only way here is to walk. Porthcurno beach, just a few miles …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OT

    "UK taxpayers who fill in a Gift Aid form can visit again for free the following year."

    IANA(Tax)L

    I am always puzzled by this. Ely Cathedral has a similar scheme where you can pay a small premium on the day ticket price and elect for Gift Aid. That then gives you free entry throughout all the following 12 months.

    Yet HMRC are reputed to invalidate tax claims for donations to registered charities if you receive any significant benefit in exchange for the donation. IIRC a businessman gave a charity a large donation - and HMRC ruled that a free ticket to an event for him was OK - but two tickets was too much.

  2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Re: OT

    Staying OT regarding the main topic, and sticking with Gift Aid...

    There was an interesting bit on "Simon Evans Goes To Market" on Radio 4 recently, where someone explained the consequences of Gift Aid as part of the bigger picture. Basically, when you tick the Gift Aid box, the government pays some more money (out of your taxes) towards that charity. But that has to come from somewhere - basically it comes from where your tax money would have gone to, like the NHS, education, policing, etc.

    The pundit was saying that when you consider ticking that Gift Aid box, are you really saying that you care more about Ely Cathedral than you do about healthcare?

    I'd always just assumed that ticking that box was a Good Thing to do, but this did make me stop and think.

  3. Paul Kinsler

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    Being HMRC, perhaps they mean (only) financial or goods-based benefits, rather than the non-monetary cultural benefits of seeing a nice cathedral again?

    I guess they might take an interest if it was "Tick gift-aid and have this souvenir mouse-mat" :-)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    "[...] perhaps they mean (only) financial or goods-based benefits [..]"

    If you don't do the Gift Aid at Ely then you would have to pay for future day visits. Even two "free" visits in that time means you have received a benefit of more than 0.25% of your original donation. Using it for every weekend seems to to be questionable.

    The HMRC get-out clause in that case is that anyone must be able to buy the same 12 month ticket at the same price - with or without Gift Aid.

    HMRC give guidance

    Sections 3.39.4 onwards lay down the rules for "free" visit Gift Aid premiums - to cover admissions to view properties and museums. These are different from the rules for tickets for performances.

    That suggests that one set of rules applies to performances of a cathedral choir in the cathedral - but it is different if the choir happens to be singing while you look round the building. My head hurts. Jaffa cake/biscuit anyone?

  5. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    While we're on Gift Aid, why do some places advertise a higher price if you tick Gift Aid? I mean it's hardly an incentive to tick the box.

    Edit:

    Ahh I see it's in section 3.39.4, although I can't see what the difference for the donor is between paras a and b, in both cases you get a years re-admittance but in para b you're 10% worse off. I've also never seen the advantage of paying 10% on the normal price advertised at places that charge it, but that may just be me.

    Also don't some countries have shorter entire tax codes than we're managing just for Gift Aid?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: OT

    True, but the government and local authorities also provide services via charities and fund them to boot.

    It sounds a bit like having unpaid interns running many government shows on the cheap, but it does mean that you are not creating a health meltdown just by using gift aid.

    Indeed one of the purposes of the incentive existing is to encourage donations, not as a personal Amazon style tax dodge, er, avoidance.

  7. paulf Silver badge
    Alert

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    @SkippyBing "Ahh I see it's in section 3.39.4, although I can't see what the difference for the donor is between paras a and b, in both cases you get a years re-admittance but in para b you're 10% worse off. I've also never seen the advantage of paying 10% on the normal price advertised at places that charge it, but that may just be me."

    This in 3.39.4 concurs with my understanding - for a general admission fee to be treated as Gift Aid it has to be 10% more than the standard admission. Yes, nominally you've paid 10% more for your admission which is the obvious downside BUT:

    1. The Charity can now claim back Gift Aid on the full admission fee (not just the additional 10%), in addition to you having paid the extra 10%. That's great news for them.

    2. As the admission fee is now a Gift Aid donation it means you can claim it against your tax bill if you're a higher rate tax payer which you wouldn't have been able to do if it was a standard admission fee. My understanding is that works out to a rebate of 20% of the total Gift Aid amount which is more than the 10% extra you paid so If you pay HRT that's good news for you. (If you don't then the Charity still benefits which is still good for them).

    Like others, I'm not a tax lawyer.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    "[...] why do some places advertise a higher price if you tick Gift Aid? I mean it's hardly an incentive to tick the box."

    Gift Aid that is claimed from HMRC is always a fixed percentage of the donation. Higher tax payers can claim back the difference between that percentage and the tax they paid in that year. So it is possible that they would get back more from HMRC than the charity's higher Gift Aid price increase.

    According to crowd-funding sites - in France the tax system seems to allow much higher benefits to donors - and also gives the donor a substantial tax refund.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: if you receive any significant benefit in exchange

    @paulf, thanks that makes more sense now. Typically I don't bother including one off donations in my tax return so that had eluded me! It's not generosity to HMRC, I just don't make enough of them to make it worth the hassle of keeping a record.

  11. Faux Science Slayer

    Frontman Marconi stole Tesla radio patents to create RCA monopoly....

    Frontman Alex Bell stole Antonio Meucci telephone patents to create AT&T monopoly....

    Bell-Langley-Curtis stole Wright Brothers patents for European monopolists....

    Monopolists stole every patent of Edison and Westinghouse....

  12. Caff

    Mr Cable

    Also worth reading about the man who laid the cables

    http://telecomsblog.ie/2014/02/16/robert-halpin-irish-pioneer-international-telecoms/

  13. Korev Silver badge
    Pint

    Wonderful article

    Thanks for a great article

    It's a bit early in the day but have one on me -->

  14. Korev Silver badge
    Pirate

    Minnack Theatre

    "Porthcurno itself boasts the open-air clifftop Minnack Theatre, with shows from March to September."

    Watching a play the Minnack is highly recommended. Just bare in mind us Cornish will brave almost any weather and so the plays will carry on in all but the worst conditions. I've been there in a sleeping bag in a DofE survival bag! In good weather it's one of the nicest places in the world.

    As we're near Penzance -->

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Minnack Theatre

    "Watching a play the Minnack is highly recommended. Just bare in mind us Cornish will brave almost any weather and so the plays will carry on in all but the worst conditions. I've been there in a sleeping bag in a DofE survival bag! In good weather it's one of the nicest places in the world."

    So that would be a case of bare in mind but not in body!

  16. Hey Nonny Nonny Mouse

    Re: Minnack Theatre

    Beautiful bit of the world, highly recommended for a visit and the beach is excellent too if that's your thing.

    The Museum is astonishing, the tunnels in the cliffs are worth exploring and if you have the stamina the steps up to the top are rewarded with a stunning view.

    I hate to say this to a resident of the area but we visit as often as we possibly can from the Midlands/Northwest and are never disappointed with the county, the Minack and Telegraph museum are jewels but there are so many in the county that it's impossible to run out of things to see and do.

  17. nichomach

    I concur

    Went to Porthcurno a few years ago and it was a great day out. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed it (although Mrs Nichomach and I had a thoroughly uncharitable giggle at her reaction to a rotary dial telephone - *stabs numbers with fingers* "It's not WOOOOOORKING!").

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I concur

    My wife and I had exactly the same experience when our early-teen son looked with great confusion at that telephone and thought it was completely weird when we explained how you used to dial numbers on a phone!

    As early TiVo adopters we'd already had the experience with him ~10 years earlier of visting other people's houses and having to explain to him that their TVs didn't pause

  19. jake Silver badge

    Re: I concur

    My grand daughter discovered my 1952 Model 500 Western Electric when she was about 5 years old. I gave her one of her own for her 6th birthday ... complete with a switch & circuitry to convert from pulse to DTMF as insurance for when her local CO drops pulse capability. She thinks it's wonderful ... and her friends think she's weird, which she also thinks is wonderful. Mission accomplished.

  20. nichomach

    Re: I concur

    That's a SUPERB idea!

  21. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Used to work there!

    In my first job out of uni I used to work in what is now the top floor of the museum back in the early 90s (just before the college closed and moved to Coventry). We had networks of XTs (later Amstrad 1640s) and Mac Pluses to look after, supporting office applications on the PCs and CAD (anyone else remember VAMP McCAD?) on the Macs. I've still got a Mac IIsi from the last clearout (as well as quite a lot of furniture from the old dorms...)

    As most of the lecturers were older employees (often returned from foreign postings) nearing retirement, we young'uns used to be regaled with tales of Imperial derring-do, and there was definitely a vibe of faded empire about the place. We even had proper tea and coffee served at breaks (with silverware and porcelain, too).

  22. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Re: Used to work there!

    'just before the college closed and moved to Coventry'

    Jesus, who had they pissed off?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Used to work there!

    The PK college and the Solihull (Monkspath) college merged, they were both Mercury Comms at the time, having previously been the overseas branch of the General Post Office => Cable & Wireless.

    Coventry was possibly a bit better than an anonymous industrial estate in Soli’ull , but rather a lot worse than PK!

    I used to teach telecoms additionally both at Chart Street and occasionally underneath what is now the new US embassy

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Used to work there!

    "We even had proper tea and coffee served at breaks [...]"

    In the 1970/80s several of my UK government IT sites had a morning tea and afternoon coffee delivery to each office by trolley. There were no vending machines. If you were too busy to leave the computer room at the right time you went thirsty.

    English Electric Computers Hartree House was a warren of corridors above Whiteley's department store. On one of my support visits in the 1960s I was on my own in an office at 2am when there was a ghostly rattling in the corridor - and a welcome tea trolley appeared at the door. Presumably a service for the operators as the building was otherwise deserted.

  25. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Re: Used to work there!

    AIUI there had been a study done for Mercury that suggested that Coventry would be an ideal distraction-free environment for training purposes (as opposed to a remote cove with nothing to do but study and lie on the beach) and vastly overestimated the likely volume of students expected at such a venue (in order to make the economics look better).

    A purpose-built (and hideously expensive by all accounts) college was duly built, the students never materialised in the numbers expected, and the place went bust shortly thereafter (followed not long after by Mercury and C&W itself after some ill-judged purchases in the dot-com bubble 1.0).

  26. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Re: Used to work there!

    Looks like the new college is now a Network Rail training centre:

    https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/320+Westwood+Heath+Rd,+Coventry+CV4+8GP,+UK/@52.3861731,-1.5878839,3a,75y,356.23h,87.56t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sv4ia2uoePBU1tyD5xE3JZg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x4870b5259316721d:0x94c8c8bad75d63c8!8m2!3d52.3865539!4d-1.5871885?hl=en

  27. Korev Silver badge
    Boffin

    Re: Used to work there!

    In the 1970/80s several of my UK government IT sites had a morning tea and afternoon coffee delivery to each office by trolley. There were no vending machines. If you were too busy to leave the computer room at the right time you went thirsty.

    I made the suggestion at the lasted place that I worked in the UK that it'd save the company money to have a tea lady. My logic was it was ~five minutes to walk to the canteen, five for them to make your drink and another five to return. Most people did this twice a day, so the savings from not having the expensive boffins miss half an hour a day in favour of a much cheaper tea lady(/man) could be considerable. Sadly the idea was ignored - I guess they never looked at the teatotal cost...

  28. H in The Hague Silver badge

    Re: Used to work there!

    "... the savings from not having the expensive boffins miss half an hour a day in favour of a much cheaper tea lady(/man) could be considerable."

    From a beancounter's point of view that's probably correct. However, from a general management point of view, your boffins might be more productive if they regularly get away from their desks, and perhaps have a chat with someone by the tea urn/fancy coffee production station.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Used to work there!

    "[...] However, from a general management point of view, your boffins might be more productive if they regularly get away from their desks, [...]"

    Our company decided to tighten up internal security and put pass locks on every corridor door on every floor. This separated the building into many silosareas.

    They installed a drinks vending machine in each separate area - rather than the previous arrangement of a couple on each floor. The result was that people only had to walk a few paces to get a drink. What they didn't get was a chance to get their mind off tramlines - nor was there so much cross-pollination of ideas within the company.

    On a project we were given our own filter coffee machine for our office in the customer's building - with free supplies. That meant only a few steps to get a drink. The result was caffeine overdosing.

    Eventually we walked a reasonable distance to the customer vending machine to buy a "brewed" coffee. The walk and the wait were beneficial to our creative thinking.

  30. Cuddles Silver badge

    I guess that's where Pratchett/Gainman got it from

    "120 for: "I wish we were together on this special occasion all my best wishes for a speedy reunion," and 136 for: "Hearing your voice on the wireless gave me a wonderful thrill.""

    I wonder what the code for "Have found the lost continent of Atlantis; high priest has just won quoits" was.

  31. jake Silver badge

    Re: I guess that's where Pratchett/Gainman got it from

    That was 161 ... everybody knows that!

  32. pxd

    Mandatory link

    Mandatory link to Neal Stephenson's excellent 1996 Wired article expanding on several issues mentioned in this very fine El Reg article. Thanks to SA Mathieson and Neal Stephenson for opening my eyes to a whole new (old) world of telegraphy and undersea cables. https://www.wired.com/1996/12/ffglass/

  33. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Ah Skewjack

    learning to surf in 1' seas.

    About 1/10th the apparent movement of the bar later.

  34. AndyFl

    FLAG fibre project

    Neal Stephenson wrote a long article about the FLAG project for Wired back in 1996. It is a bit dated now but really captured the spirit of the project and the lives of those working on cable projects at the time. It also has all sorts of side stories about the history and economics of telecommunications.

    It is well worth a read, but be warned, it is quite long.

    https://www.wired.com/1996/12/ffglass/

    enjoy

    Andy

  35. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    This article is interesting and informative.

  36. Roland6 Silver badge

    Marconi Monument & Lizard Wireless Station?

    Given the references to Marconi in the article, I hope future article(s) cover the Marconi Centre and monument and Poldhu Amateur Radio Club, along with the Lizard Wireless Station. Whilst these are much smaller they do complete a communications visit to Cornwall (well whilst Goonhilly remains closed to the general public).

  37. PhilBuk

    Re: Marconi Monument & Lizard Wireless Station?

    El Reg already did. Try here:

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/23/geeks_guide_maroni_and_the_lizard_uk/

    Yes - they did spell Marconi wrong in the link.

    Phil.

  38. anothercynic Silver badge

    Excellent article...

    More of this please! I *love* this stuff! *adds Porthcurno to the 'Things to do in Cornwall' list*

  39. terrencem
    Big Brother

    Secrets of Cornwall video

    If you want to know more about fibre optic cable landing sites, hidden buildings, GCHQ Bude etc then this Youtube video is a must - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_nnUbX7uuQ .

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is surprising that they used triple digit numbers. Digits in Morse code are always five key presses - whereas no letter is more than four. Using letters as codes they could have cherry picked the ones with the smallest transmission times.

    Probably numbers have less potential for ambiguity - and may be effectively error correcting if the permissible number groups are chosen carefully. An alphanumeric combination seems the best option.

  41. RobDog

    More on FLAG and undersea cable history here

    http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass.html

    It’s quite a read

  42. glensmiff

    Well worth a visit

    I was in Porthcurno for the 1999 eclipse and first visited the museum then. I could recognise lots of modern electronic equipment but in purely mechanical form - including a morse decoding typewriter. They even had a pair of original Teletypes connected together - something to make a Unix admin smile (the Unix term tty comes from the Teletype).

    With the Minnack and beach in walking distance, it's a good day out.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Well worth a visit

    " They even had a pair of original Teletypes connected together [...]"

    Many years ago. A prestigious press release day for the announcement of a new mainframe online service for business applications. The night before - the Post Office engineers are still trying to set up a working telegraph line across the rooftops of London. It was thankfully working in time for the arrival of the press and business guests.

    The teletype operator at the press venue had instructions never to deviate from the script - always wise advice on a demonstration. Unfortunately the online system was still very unreliable - so there was a Plan"B".

    A roll of papertape - prepunched to simulate the mainframe responses - was in a teletype at the mainframe site ready to be patched in when things went pear-shaped.

    To everyone's surprise and relief the mainframe behaved flawlessly - until just after the demonstration had finished. It didn't achieve that reliability again until after several more weeks/months of development.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good read

    Tubes, Behind the scenes at the Internet by Andrew Blum

  45. gypsythief

    Oops, Missed this one

    Still, on the map now!

    http://www.gypsythief.org.uk/GeeksMapToBritain/

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