Jan
27
2009
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Computer memories: Doug Belshaw

The full version of this ‘ICT history’ can be found on Doug’s blog.

BBC Micro

My Dad was Deputy Head of the high school (13-18) I eventually attended. I can remember him bringing back a BBC Micro that must have cost the school a fair chunk of cash. Given that the BBC Micro was discontinued in 1986, it couldn’t have been long after that he started bringing it home in the school holidays. I can distinctly remember having to type in lines and lines of code to play a game called Duck Hunt. There was no way for me to save it once I’d programmed it in, so there was more typing than playing going on! I don’t think it was exactly the same as this version for the Nintendo NES, but it was similar…

My Dad also brought an Acorn Computer back once, but as we had no games for it, we (my younger sister and I), didn’t really use it.

Nintendo NES

I was never allowed to have a games console, my parents being of the belief (quite rightly) that I’d just spend my life playing video games. One of my friends who I only saw outside of school time had a Nintendo Entertainment System, which was legendary – Super Mario and the like made me a frequent visitor to his house!

Amiga 600

As my birthday is very close to Christmas, I was in the fortunate situation of being able to combine the money that would be spent on present for me to get one ‘big’ present. Given that the Amiga 600, according to Wikipedia, went into production in 1992 and was discontinued in 1993, I must have received it for birthday/Christmas 1992. As a 12-year-old, I can remember going to Canterbury when we were on a family holiday and my parents buying Lemmings and Kick Off 2 for me. Although, theoretically, the Amiga 600 was a computer and a games console, I never did anything other than play games on it! ;-)

Sega Megadrive

Sonic the Hedgehog
Image via Wikipedia

Whilst I had my Amiga 600, another friend had a Sega Megadrive. This was my first experience of Sonic the Hedgehog and I found the graphics on it amazing – especially when the 32X add-on was released!

Compaq Presario Pentium 75

My Dad had brought home his 486DX-powered PC during the holidays during 1994 and 1995. It was upon this that I learned how to touch-type with a version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that came free on the front of a magazine. Then – and I’m not sure how I managed to do this – I persuaded my parents to spend £1,500 in Bainbridges (now John Lewis) on a Pentium 75-powered PC. I think I promised that it would not only be a combined birthday and Christmas present for 1995, but for 1996 and 1997 as well!

I can remember playing Sim City 2000 and especially, the Secret of Monkey Island on this machine. My sister and I would return from school and be straight on the PC trying to figure out the next puzzle! I also had Sensible Soccer, a flight simulator, and some other games.

It was with this machine, however, and Windows 95 that I began to use the PC as a computer rather than a console. Before Freeserve, you had a choice between paying Compuserve or AOL around £15 per month on top of dial-up charges to access the Internet. My PC had a 28.8kbps modem – twice the speed of the previous 14.4kbps standard.

There was no way that my parents were going to pay this to allow me access to a resource they didn’t see as necessary to my education. I tried and tried and tried to persuade them, but when they didn’t agree I decided to take matters into my own hands. I used my Dad’s credit card to sign up for a 30-day Compuserve trial, and then used the Internet when my parents were not using the phone. This, of course, was slightly dangerous as, if they’d picked up the phone when I was online, they would have been able to hear the giveaway noises. I had to go to a phone box and pretend to be my Dad after about 29 days to cancel my (his!) Compuserve account, and make sure I wasn’t connected for longer than an hour. Billing was only itemised for calls over 60 pence, you see…

In 1997, as a 16-year-old, I was getting a bit fed-up of Windows 95. I’d read about Open Source Software and Linux in particular. Although by now I had a 56kbps modem and my parents allowed me online via Freeserve, downloading anything substantial over this connection speed was painful. I bought a book with a title something like Teach yourself Red Hat Linux in 24 hours. Despite the book that came with it, I couldn’t get Linux to work properly on my PC.

[Continues further on Doug’s blog]

Doug Belshaw
www.dougbelshaw.com

Jan
25
2009
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Computer memories: Nick Francis

My first computer memories were two fold.

Mr Ee!

Mr Ee!

In school – J3 (as we were called then), we were given the opportunity of using the brand spanking new BBC micros, educational applications like Logo and the odd game or two that were knocking around at the time. One specific game which came to be the class favourite was ‘Mr. EE’. It was something about the dazzling (ahem…) graphics or the catchy (Cancan) music which just became addictive amongst us.

So addictive in fact, that most of us never got a look-in. However, that changed ….. one particular dismal British afternoon, I remember going completely against character, up to the Headmasters’ room, where all the software was kept and very carefully removing Mr. EE from the polycarbonate storage container and sneakily making my way back to the classroom.

This is where my memory fades, I’m pretty positive I made it back to the class and even had perhaps one/two attempts at the game, in fact I think I was pretty useless. The reality that I had ‘broken-in’ to the Headmasters’ office hadn’t really hit me, in my mind I was walking on air!

I do remember a stern teacher and a return trip to the Heads’ office with my head in my hands. What was I thinking?

vic20

On the home front, it was sometime later that I received my own, first personal computer…… I remember thinking it’s a C64! It’s a C64! which was the more popular, more expensive model at the time. I eventually unwrapped a VIC 20, which looking back at it, didn’t really phase me, I was just glad to have a Computer! (pupils of today take note!) The next week consisted of me playing one game, ‘Hunchback’ on a black & white portable that I had inherited from my father and trying to get another game to work, which never did 🙁

Vic-20 boot screen

Vic-20 boot screen

Looking back, it’s amazing that I never seemed to lose my temper with this machine, it constantly came up with ‘Syntax error at line 24’ etc, it took ages to load a game which by today’s standards is basic, yet there was something utterly fantastic about that machine, my first tentative steps into a world in which I now take computers completely for granted, demanding they perform billions of calculations every day …… my how times have changed!

Nick’s suggested links for further research:

Nick Francis
http://www.nickafrancis.co.uk/

Written by in: Memories | Tags: , , , , ,
Jan
22
2009
2

Computer memories: Mary Cooch

My first memories are having a BBC B (I think!) as I began my PGCE year and being rather unimpressed with what it would do for me – my then O/H spend forever playing games and creating little programs on it (he was used to FORTRAN and felt Basic was a bit – basic!) But when I went to my first placement school I became an immediate star when I was able to generate automatic wordsearch sheets from a list of inputted words, courtesy of his efforts. They’d all been used to handwriting them laboriously and the sheer speed and technology of having a wordsearch on this fancy dot-matrix printer paper blew their minds! Also mind blowing but in a rather negative way was the horrendous screech of the cassette player as it took forever to store your work. It is as ingrained in my mind as the dial-up modem sound of the late 90s.

bbc_lidoff

When I began as an NQT, and not having much money, we did a really Bad thing and sneaked our next model down a back street where we paid a significant amount of money to a man to put us in a chip with View, BBC’s word processing program. We had discussions about ROM and sideways RAM and I was delighted because now I could have Bold, Italic or even both on my dot matrix worksheets!

We went round to a friend’s house to look at his computer – can’t even remember what it was now – but he was very much into it and talked about how there was a thing called a modem and if you attached it to your phone you could connect with other computers around the world, although he wasn’t quite sure what you might do once you had connected….

Mary Cooch
moodleblog.org

Written by in: Memories | Tags: , , , ,
Jan
22
2009
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Computer memories: Dave Stacey

We had a ZX Spectrum when I was young. And not just any old ZX Spectrum. This was the ZX Spectrum + and it had a whole 48k of RAM.

spectrum_plus

Well, it sounded impressive at the time.

To play anything you had to load the programmes from cassette tape, but there was no built in player. Instead you had to attach a standard tape player to the computer and ensure that the volume control was just at the right level (my Mum tippexed an arrow on ours). When you hit play this unearthly noise would echo around the lounge for however long it took for the game to load. If you’ve never heard a Spectrum loading up go and find the sound online. It’s one of those sounds that I suspect may be completely impossible to describe in words.

Of course, as well as playing games that someone else had written, you could programme your Spectrum to do amazing things. Like repeating words infinitely down the screen or (if you were willing to spend several hours on this) creating shapes that filled the screen. The one drawback was that could couldn’t save any of the work you’d programmed, so once it was done, and everyone had been invited in to watch the word ‘bum’ scrolling repeatedly down your tele, you switched it off and lost it all. Actually there was a second drawback. The Spectrum wasn’t the most reliable machine in the world. If someone knocked it as they were walking past, or the ball game at the other end of the lounge got a little out of hand and the soft spongy ball would roll over the keys, (or, seemingly when someone in the kitchen sneezed), the whole thing would reboot. And all your work thus far would be lost.

It’s probably no surprise that it took me another ten years and a move to University before I would have anything at all to do with any kind of computer programming.

Once the Spectrum had gone off to the great electronics shop in the sky, our next computer was a BBC Micro. I can’t quite remember how we ended up with it, but I think it might have been one that my Mum’s school felt was past it’s usefulness, but my Mum felt could still be put to good use entertaining me and  my siblings. By now of course, computers had come on leaps and bounds. This had a whole 128k of RAM and sported a floppy disk drive which not only loaded programmes, but let you save things as well. And these were real floppy disks, that really were floppy. I always thought the later, smaller, evidently non-floppy floppy disks really should have been called something else. Rigid disks probably wouldn’t have caught on in quite the same way…

chuckie_egg

I don’t remember many games for either the Spectrum or the BBC. I remember one for the spectrum having some really annoying intro music, a full listenable copy of which was included on the tape along with the game. I remember Chucky Egg and Sink the Bismark for the BBC. But what I remember more than any of that was being useless at the games (I still am rubbish at computer games) and getting easily bored and frustrated by the whole thing. I never ‘got’ how my friends could spend hours with their Amigas and their Commodore 64s.

Ironic I suppose given that now anything geeky is right up my street!

Dave Stacey
http://blog.mrstacey.org.uk/?p=77

Written by in: Memories | Tags: , , ,
Jan
20
2009
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Resource: Overview of older computers

This is Mikila’s overview covering the BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga 500 and the Atari ST.

Provides brief technical information together with additional dates and details.  A good start before producing more detailed leaflets 🙂

pdf_icon
 Overview of older computers.pdf

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