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
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
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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
22
2009
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Computer memories: Andrew Field

zx_spectrum

The first computer I can remember using was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48kb in around 1982 / 83. My sister was given one for Christmas – it came with a few games and some programming manuals. It seemed amazing clever at the time.

At school at the time there was one computer lab with BBC Micros. I remember being shown the lab, but being too young to be allowed in it properly 🙁

Later on I was taught how to make a graphic move across the screen on a BBC. I still remember the lesson. There was a real sense of achievement in getting a white character to move across the screen.

I subsequently inherited my sister’s computer and was bought a printer for it. It wasn’t very powerful at all, but seemed really impressive when I was little. I remember creating a quiz program to help my sister revise her A-Level history.

za_spectrum128_2a

A few years later moved to a Spectrum 128k +2, a more powerful version of the Spectrum. My Mum and Dad also purchased a PCW 9512 – a dedicated wordprocessor. I used that to write a program that did my GCSE Maths coursework on quadratic equations for me.

amiga_500
However, my favourite computer when I was younger was the Amiga 500. This offered some great features – an impressive mixture of graphics, office-type tools, programming and games. I even wrote a few games using a program called ‘AMOS Professional’. I tried to buy an Amiga 1200 but we weren’t able to as this was the time Commodore went bust.

amos_pro

Since then I drifted into PCs having used them in the later years of secondary school and in earnest at University. One of my courses at university was even called “Computing for Historians” – it was much more interesting than the title and associated book suggest.

What’s your computer history?

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