Higher Still from the silage pit;Comment;Opinion

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Here's a handy tip to anyone who ever has a go at writing an article for a newspaper or magazine. Don't bother thinking up a title for it. Having said that, if I was writing a header for this, it would be "Higher Still in a Spitfire".

I've been saving my pennies for a few months now, having convinced Mrs Steele that if I bought an old car to do up it would be a long-term project that would not involve me disappearing into the garage when I should be watching weans.

My farmer brother-in-law agreed to let me store any heap I might buy in one of his outbuildings so the road was clear for me to take the first step towards classic car ownership.

My present to me when I started teaching, long before my Skoda days, was an ancient Triumph Spitfire. Being familiar with the model, it seemed logical to search for one of those or its bigger cousin, the Herald. I mentioned to our head of PE that I was on the lookout for a Spit and he happened to know where one lay. The snag was that it had been there for eight years.

An inspection was arranged. I was accompanied by Alan, the PE PT's son, who was doing up a similar model. Initial impressions were not good. The once-red vehicle had weathered to salmon pink. It sat beside the Clyde, slighted canted over. A tree grew over, round and through it.

The door that was still attached was ajar, allowing a copious amount of leaves to have accumulated in the cockpit. The car would undoubtedly have been full of water had there not been large Fred Flintstone-style holes in the floor. As we say around here, it was hingin'.

Alan opined that the vehicle was a lost cause as far as restoration was concerned. He wished he had known about it when he had begun his own restoration because there were several parts he could have used. There still were a few. I knew the car would be scrapped if I didn't take it and voiced that this would be a pity. It would provide a good source of bits for my own project.

Alan and I decided to purchase it together and the bits he didn't want now languish in an abandoned silage pit awaiting an onslaught from my socket set. The ability to detach and refit a half-shaft assembly from its universal joint and swing spring vertical link does not make me a better driver. This brings me to Higher computing and Higher Still computing. The debate rages as to whether programming and systems should be included.

The present Higher makes a good attempt at justifying their inclusion as part of a problem-solving hierarchy. In practice, it turns out that there are kids who can do everything with computers except program them and others who don't want to do much else except program them.

While it could be argued that the programmers have to know what the users are doing, I wonder whether the vast majority of computer operators need to have any understanding of computer systems and software design. The Higher Still computing proposals envision two Highers offered by departments, one about the guts of the machines themselves and the other concerned with using them. It is a controversial proposal but I find it has its appeal.

Would you like it if the driving test had a section on stripping down a cylinder head or setting the timing on an engine? If you would, you're welcome to help me out on the odd Sunday afternoon. Hope you don't mind the lingering odour of silage.

Gregor Steele has just been to see another Spitfire. This one didn't have a floor either.

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