Saturday, June 30, 2007

Maplin Modem

Maplin 300 baud modem - the same one as mine but mine was in a similar home built case. I don't have a photo of this but I did make a video of Jacquie (age 5) playing on my Sinclair Spectrum with the modem next to it.
I bought this as a kit from Maplin and built it up along with a serial RS232 interface with a UART for the Spectrum. A dial-up programme and a couple of micro relays allowed auto dialling on the old telephone system before tone dialling. With the modem I could access the Open University's computers which allowed me to complete my assignments on-line, bulletin boards and the 300bps Prestel system. This was the internet in it's infancy!
I can't remember what happened to the modem...I think I sold it at a rally or bring and buy stall. A neat bit of kit at the time!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sinclair Spectrum

I could talk for hours about this technological icon...where do I start?
Home computers hit the market in the 1980's. My first encounter came in 1983 when I was doing an Open University course on computers. I was sent an 8080 based computer as part of the course. It was pretty crude, having no operating system and only understood basic commands. The course gave me an insight into digital technology where I learned about the building blocks of computers and CPU's.
My first ever computer was a 4 bit hand held Sharp computer which I traded for my Liner 2 tranceiver. I actually enjoyed using this little handheld device, no software, but would respond to standard basic programming language. I remember writing a Lunar Landing game on the machine which I later used on the Spectrum.
Buying a proper computer for the first time was difficult. The BBC Computer was the standard and beginning to arrive in schools, but it was very expensive. The Dragon 32 was very popular and I was tempted to go for that one. I remember making a journey to a great computer shop in Accrington, which also sold electronic components, to get some advise. So many machines...I was quite taken with another computer which didn't take off at the time but it's specs were nice...The Lynx computer.

My first experience of the Sinclair Spectrum came when a friend of mine invited me to his house to have a look at his new Sinclair Spectrum 48kb machine. He showed me games that blew my cotton socks off! Pi Man, Space Invaders and The Hobbit. Graphics were out of this world and the rubber keyboard so easy to use. I really wanted one, but they were expensive £199 for the 48K which at the time was a heck of a lot of money. Then, suddenly W.H.Smith dropped the price and advertised it in a full page spread in the newspapers. I went to buy one!

I remember going into the shop that morning expecting all the machines to be sold but not so...they had some in stock, so away I went with my new purchase straight to work having taken time off to get one!

From then on the Spectrum was my life...night after night downloading programmes games and software from the radio on 2m. Data was saved in audio onto audio tapes. Bought a new tape recorder, made up leads, bought tons of accessories...most of which were useless, and best of all bought tons of 5 minutes long tapes to store the programmes.
Digital and Analogue technology in harmony!
Later, I wanted a Joysick and it's plug-in interface, but again this was expensive. The Spectrum and other new Computers on the market were now taking off, so at Belle-Vue in Manchester probably the first Computer Fair arrived. I went along not really expecting what to find, but that was one of the best afternoons ever. I came away with Joysick, interface and loads of other stuff at less than half price! Later, I splashed out and bought a printer which used heat sensitive paper but worked quite well.
My Spectrum became the centre of many projects, my best was the construction of a 300 baud MODEM and interface for the spectrum which controlled access to the Open University's computers in Manchester and Newcastle. (the early internet!) The interface programming was written in pure machine code which I wrote myself! I even wrote a programme that stored telephone numbers and then auto-dialled through the 300 baud modem. I was then able to access bulletin boards.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Creative Anachronism

The Decca CTV22 a Creative Anachronism from the early 1970's

Today I recieved my weekly newsletter that keeps me up to date with digital technology in education. Here is an interesing bit that made me think...

"Due to both the lack of creativity in most of the technically inclined and refinements in plastic forming and mass production, the home computer was denied what I feel to be the proudest time in the life of any technological device.
It was robbed of the fleeting, wonderful period right after invention, where it is celebrated and honoured by the finest craftsman and creative minds, and given a structure befitting its potential and greatness.
It was essentially denied a "novelty period".
When the steam train roared into history, hissing smoke and howling into the night, it was an awesome beast, adorned in the finest woods, ivory, gold, and intricate inlays, like some Serpent King on a sacred tapestry. The automobiles of the 20's to 60's, each was a work of art.
The television and radio affected the world in more ways that can be imagined, changing the entire dynamic of human social structure and communication. They were both appropriately gifted with the most lavish of hand tooled, wooden scrolled cabinetry, housings which borrowed architectural details from the grandest schools, churches and banks.
Sadly, the personal computer, which has impacted the world more profoundly than probably all of the previously mentioned inventions put together, never received the same kind treatment. It went from a buzzing beige cube, to a buzzing white one, to the garish space-eggs you see nowadays."
In other words...You can have it any colour you like as long as it's grey!