Robin L. D. Rees
1984–1996

Oxford University logo

Information Officer: Oxford University Computing Services

  • Manager of documentation for OUCS computers and their networks;
  • Editor of 115 issues of the Newsletter (c. 16 pages), circulated throughout the University;
  • Lecturer on courses on computing, word processing and computer typography;
  • Adviser to staff and students on a wide range of computing problems;
  • Supervisor of junior staff.
OUCS building
OUCS, 13 Banbury Road
My office was on the 2nd floor at the front.


OUCS Newsletter

When I arrived at Oxford University Computing Services in 1984, I was not altogether surprised to find the University significantly less advanced in IT than Imperial College had been when I left in 1982.

One of my principal tasks at OUCS was to edit the Newsletter (Nos 52–166 inclusive). In this I felt that my role should be more than a purely factual one. In my Editorial each month I therefore tried to include something which might be considered mildly interesting – even entertaining – to someone who was not at all interested in computers. If professors of Greek, Latin or Theology could be persuaded to read my Editorial, then they might be persuaded to read on. Whether my writing helped to fire the IT revolution that has transformed Oxford in the last fifteen years, I shall never know: I hope so. Certainly writing the Editorials was an entertaining exercise.

OUCS meeting
An important editorial meeting . . .
Saved for posterity
In addition to the 800 printed copies each month, the Newsletter was in due course also made available on the Web. Such a publication could only be expected to have a short ‘shelf life’ and, four years on, when I came to create my own Internet site, none of my contributions remained on the system. However, I had retained a few of the printed editions. Here, for better or for worse, are some items taken from the Editorials over the years.

October 1986

As one who spent his computer-infancy with paper tape and cards, I mourn their passing. Although not strictly re-cycleable, after punching they could still be used for shopping lists and Christmas decorations respectively, which is more than can be said for their successors.

This led to:

December 1986

In the October Newsletter, I referred to the demise of paper tape and cards, and suggested that they could respectively be used for shopping lists and Christmas decorations. Of course this should have read ‘Christmas decorations and shopping lists’ but, if you see any computer cards hanging from the ceiling in the next few weeks, please let me know.

December 1987

A true story, recalled in the final few days of the ICL 2988 mainframe

Oxford Heresy Sensation

Once upon a time, a user of the ICL 2988 was sitting at a terminal, running his program, when suddenly it failed.

In a fit of anger he typed:

GOD

and immediately the system responded:

ERROR 38522 : GOD DOES NOT EXIST

WARNING 71154 : THE FOLLOWING CHARACTERS HAVE BEEN IGNORED: GOD

As the 2988 sinks into oblivion (or something) just a week before Christmas, perhaps it will be reconsidering the matter.

March 1989

Smokey

On my first day at OUCS, just over five years ago, I was taken around the labyrinth of 13 Banbury Road to meet my future colleagues. One such in the Library was feline and fluffy, and Smokey both in name and colour. Many users will be saddened to learn that Smokey died on 2 February after a short illness.

He had been at OUCS for fourteen years, almost all of his working life, although whether he was on the official payroll I was never able to discover. Be that as it may, OUCS will never quite be the same again without him.

REQUIEScat IN PACE

Smokey the cat
Smokey

February 1990

Antique Lasercomp Tube Discount Offer Sensation

As a result of Lasercomp [phototypesetter bromide] output now being wider than it used to be, we have a number of obsolete cardboard tubes, together with plastic stoppers, all eagerly awaiting a new purpose in life.

The tubes are available in a tasteful shade of brown, and a choice of useful sizes: 305 × 64 mm, or 305 × 38 mm. A tube would make a delightful gift to someone special – a money box, a jumbo-Smarties carton, or a container for a St. Valentine’s Day rose – these are just three potential uses that immediately spring to mind. In bulk they have even been used as room dividers.

The tubes originally cost 40 pence each, but we are now willing to consider any reasonable offer. Lindsey Mills is looking forward to receiving your order (genuine replies only, please). Call her NOW on (2)73265. This spectacular offer cannot last for ever – at the time of writing we have only 800 tubes left.

December 1990

Welcome to our Christmas edition, which contains information on . . . DECspell, a spelling checker which, with commendable modesty, does not recognise its own name.

March 1993

In the article on FREEBEE in last month's Newsletter, there appeared a misprint which must have caused offence to some readers and confusion to others. The line in question should have read: ‘. . . from the Lancaster public-domain software archive . . . .’

December 1996

My final contribution to the Newsletter

An Editor Reflects

Christmas is a time of reflection. For me these reflections are heightened as I prepare to leave OUCS. I remember how, shortly before Christmas 1983, I caught the train for Oxford to attend my interview at OUCS. On my journey home I reflected how, in December 1964, I had made the same journey for another interview at the University – a rather less successful one. I felt very pleased that, after 19 years, the University had finally seen fit to make amends . . . .

I have enjoyed editing the Newsletter for the past 13 years, and thank my colleagues at OUCS for the help and friendship that they have shown me. I hope that the new Editor has as much enjoyment as I have had.

My final task as Editor is to wish, on behalf of OUCS, all our users a happy Christmas and peace throughout the coming year.

Newsletter cover


A Fitting Monument . . .

I have always been very fond of
araucariae or monkey-puzzle trees, those prickly specimens that used to be so popular in Victorian gardens. During my years at Oxford University Computing Services, I often thought how fitting it would be to have such a tree in the front garden of 13 Banbury Road.

When I left, I asked whether OUCS would like one as a leaving present, and my offer was accepted – though it did take ten months to secure the agreement of all the relevant committees....

One morning in October 1997 we held a short planting ceremony. In the best Oxford tradition, the speeches by Alex Reid (Director of OUCS) and myself were in Latin, and delivered – of course – in our gowns.

OUCS monkey-puzzle tree
The OUCS monkey-puzzle tree: July 2005

OUCS monkey-puzzle tree
The same tree: May 2010

OUCS monkey-puzzle tree
The same tree: May 2014
Note the change of name.


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© R. L. D. Rees 2001–2005
Photographs © Geoff Lescott 1988
(reproduced by permission)