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
24
2009
1

Computer memories: Russel Tarr

My first computer memory consists of my dad showing me (when I was about 9, I guess) a very flash (as in “bling” rather than “Macromedia”) digital watch. This was a chunky gold-plated monstrosity which lay so heavily upon his right wrist that he needed to use his left hand to lift it up and show it off. Not only that, but you had to press a button on its side to light up the red LED display of the time because it used so much battery power that it would otherwise last about seven seconds before dying out.

commodore_pet

My second memory is of the time I was sent to the local supermarket to get my dad some cigarettes and, instead of typing the price into the cash till, the John Player Specials were simply “swiped” across a Star-Wars type laser and the bar code did all the work. Then, before I had time to take this in, my junior school purchased a Commodore PET with a breathtaking 3K of RAM, around which a whole “computer club” would gather every Thursday evening. Since then, I have never lost my sense of bewilderment at the wonders of technology: which is why I avoid trying to think about it (or anything else) too much. For example – the fact that my mobile phone can pick up a call from anybody, anywhere in the world, implies to me that at any given second of the day I have an infinite number of conversations whizzing around my head. That’s just too weird.

zx_spectrum1

Anyway, to get to real computers, like many people of my generation my first experience of a home computer was the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which I retain so much affection for that I just this week bought one on Ebay to frame and stick in my work room (at the time of writing it hasn’t even arrived yet). I remember the sense of shock and awe I got from typing in my first line of code (copied from the manual) which drew an arc on my television screen (“Circle: 0, 40, 60” or something like that). From that point on, it was a slippery slope: an invoicing system for my dad’s roofing business, a “rummy” card game simulator for my nan, and before you knew it I was drinking black coffee and practicing the dark arts of Z80 machine code with my own version of the game “Gauntlet” – which if I remember was like Pacman, except the ghosts were a bit more clever.

250px-micro_live_logo

The result was playground divisions of the first magnitude. Forget Montagues and Capulets, or Mods and Rockers: you were either Spectrum 48, Commodore 64, or a pitiable nonentity who insisted that an Acorn or an Amstrad was in the same league. Many bitter arguments ensued – both at school and on the TV show “Micro Live” – about whether the superior “sprites” of the Commodore outweighed the crisper sound of the Spectrum (the fact that the “48” actually had more RAM than the “64” was a truism that both sides silently accepted). My loyalties, I am proud to say, never wavered – although they came close when Clive Sinclair himself invented a zany electrically powered personal vehicle called the C5 (what was the matter with the man? This was the 1980s, there was still plenty of fossil fuels left to burn!).

lunar_jetman_1

Lunar Jetman

knight_lore_3

Knight Lore

The phase of my life which was characterized by endless hours loading (and even occasionally playing) Manic Miner, Chuckie Egg, Lunar Jetman, 3D Deathchase, Psst! and Knight Law came to a very abrupt end when my brother stuck an AC power cable into the wrong hole in the back of the computer and blew the bloody thing up. From that point I did not use a computer until I was compulsorily obliged to learn word processing as part of my teacher training course. But from the moment I printed off my first essay and saw how professional it looked, I was transported back into geek heaven and have never looked back (and never, of course, had the social confidence to look anyone straight in the eye, either).

Russel Tarr
www.ActiveHistory.co.uk
www.ClassTools.net

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

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