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Mon, Jul 7th 10:53pm 2008: Friends

Back when I started year 7 at St Michael's Grammar one of my classmates was a kid from Latvia named Viktor who arrived speaking very little English but rapidly picked it up and became one of my best friends during my school years. He then moved to Germany and due to certain circumstances that I can't go into I lost touch with him and had no idea where he was for about 19 years.

Then thanks to the miracle of Facebook we found each other again a few weeks ago and discovered we were living only about 30 minutes apart so we got together for a BBQ where we had a great time swapping stories about the missing years.

One of the little bits of memorabilia that Vik had on file was this article from "Computing Australia" magazine published on October 12th, 1987:

(Click it to see a larger version)

The relevant article is the top one about the kids making a superconductor, but I was so amused by the fact that it was right above the OS/2 update story that I didn't trim it down!

In typical journalistic fashion they not only got the school wrong in the photo caption (it was students from St Michaels, not Upwey High) but also got the names all mixed up. That's me right in the middle with the Elton John glasses and the enormous hair, and Vik is just to the left with safety glasses on. And yes, that's liquid nitrogen that Helen is pouring out of a thermos flask without wearing gloves - you'd never see that today!

I loved that project. It was done outside of the regular school program with one of our physics teachers just keeping an eye on things, but otherwise we were left to ourselves. We were given access to whatever school facilities we needed and the teachers turned a blind eye to us not turning up to class while we babysat the material in shifts during the cooling process. I even fell asleep in one of my classes after being up all night logging the furnace temperature every few minutes, and the teacher just let me sleep with my head on the desk and then woke me up when it was time to go to the next class.

One of the raw materials (either Yttrium or Barium, I can't remember which) was quite hard to obtain and we had to get it shipped down from some university in NSW. I went off to Spencer St station with one of the other students to collect the parcel that had been sent down by train, and it felt like we were Mission Impossible agents. Exciting stuff when you're a 16 year-old geek.

One of the tricks to making 1-2-3 superconductor is controlling the cooling curve very accurately, so one of my contributions was writing a little Basic program on an Apple IIe to generate a table showing the optimum temperature at regular intervals so we could read the actual furnace temperature with a thermocouple and adjust it during the 14 hour cooling cycle. We set shifts and sat there for hours watching the temperature and tweaking the furnace to make it match the optimum cooling curve.

It was all worth it in the end and definitely one of my happiest memories from school.

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