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Frank Hovis

Early British Computing

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Does anybody have a personal story on these?

I read PC mags until I could finally buy a ZX81, I remember the edition with the monkey wearing a bowler hat on the cover and desiring the many computers I had no hope of affording.

But I think when the Sinclair and Acorn products hit the big time we lost that mass cottage industry.

Micro Men was great, but only nodded at that early phase.

So what was it like?

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I am told that Charles Babbage invented his mechancial computer and then spent the next 40 years of his life sat in front of it masturbating whilst awaiting the invention of the worldwide web.

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Yes.

Clive Sinclair appropriated my ASR33 to start work on the ZX80. I was working for Sinclair Radionics, designing automatic test gear for the little TV (remember that?), using the National Semiconductors SC/MP and the RCA 1802 cpu's. Shortly after, the whole TV department was made redundant. Out of this sprang Thurlby, Thandar, Number One systems and a few others. One lucky guy, Nigel Tilbury, got to be the comms guy for "Treasure Hunt", and spent his time chasing Anneka Rice's rear.

A friend and I for a time, tried to bring to market the ATE we had been designing - with only a moderate success. We used the 6502 (also featured in the Acorn and BBC computers) as an embedded processor, and various Apple 2's as presentation devices. The first Apple2 we had was an oddity - an ITT2020 - a makeshift cludge to work under the European television standards before Apple designed the 2e proper.

I have to say there was a real "can do" atmosphere at the time, whereas nowadays in the regulatory environment we have, it would be nigh impossible for limited capital technology start-ups to even get going.

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Got a Vic 20 for Xmas when I was a youngster and wrote a program that made my name scroll down the screen ad infintum. Soon thought what a load of sh1t and went out to play with my mates.

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I am told that Charles Babbage invented his mechancial computer and then spent the next 40 years of his life sat in front of it masturbating whilst awaiting the invention of the worldwide web.

Just like me and my ZX80!

In my defence I was in my early teens and Debbie Harry was on Top of the Pops almost weekly at the time.

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Yes.

Clive Sinclair appropriated my ASR33 to start work on the ZX80. I was working for Sinclair Radionics, designing automatic test gear for the little TV (remember that?), using the National Semiconductors SC/MP and the RCA 1802 cpu's. Shortly after, the whole TV department was made redundant. Out of this sprang Thurlby, Thandar, Number One systems and a few others. One lucky guy, Nigel Tilbury, got to be the comms guy for "Treasure Hunt", and spent his time chasing Anneka Rice's rear.

A friend and I for a time, tried to bring to market the ATE we had been designing - with only a moderate success. We used the 6502 (also featured in the Acorn and BBC computers) as an embedded processor, and various Apple 2's as presentation devices. The first Apple2 we had was an oddity - an ITT2020 - a makeshift cludge to work under the European television standards before Apple designed the 2e proper.

My God, this post makes me feel old because I know what you're talking about. Wasn't the ITT2020 silver in colour but in the normal Apple ][ case? I remember there was a home PC based on the 1802 - COMX 35 I think it was called.

I was at Acorn in the late 80s/early 90s (Archimedes era, ARM just getting going as a separate business unit).

My favourite computer of the era was the Atari 400 though (BBC micros hadn't been launched when I got it) - amazing amount of power for its day (designers went on to do the Amiga). I remember waitiing what seemed like forever for my ZX81 to be delivered.

Most of my career has been in embedded systems for industrial use and the whole 80s micro thing has been a huge benefit.

I have to say there was a real "can do" atmosphere at the time, whereas nowadays in the regulatory environment we have, it would be nigh impossible for limited capital technology start-ups to even get going.

I disagree quite strongly about this. I think we're very much in an 80s-type vibe when it comes to getting startups going cheaply, even in hardware. The number of embedded, modular systems and components (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc.) and the use of standard protocols over the Internet make this a golden age IMO. It's possible to get a communicating computing device designed and built very cheaply using off the shelf components. Mobile apps are similar in many ways to the 80s programs - easy to self publish but this time with a huge market to sell into. Marketing is much easier too - a global market, free trade and Internet sales. Unless it's highly specialised device, getting say CE approval isn't particularly expensive. Financing is also so much easier, especially if you just need small funds and can use crowd funding.

I've got a startup of my own (again) which is launching next month and I've pretty much developed it all myself, although mainly based on off-the-shelf and open source components. I'm getting a little long in the tooth for startups though and so it's probably my last one (had a few) but if I were technically capable and in my mid 20s it would a fantastic time for this sort of thing. There are huge numbers of software and hardware startups being created.

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I had an Altos CP/M machine as a child in the mid-80s, given to me by an uncle whose business upgraded to an Amstrad MS-DOS computer containing what was by the standards of the day an enormous hard drive - 10 megabytes! The Altos used 8" floppies (I think the capacity of each was 128k), and I taught myself rudimentary programming in MBASIC and Turbo Pascal. It had a program called Spellbinder for wordprocessing, about which I can now remember very little. In retrospect it was a great learning experience, and although I haven't written any program code since the early '90s (apart from the odd manual tweaking of a web page's source code), the process of flowcharting, coding and debugging was a great lesson in planning and problem-solving in all sorts of other walks of life.

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I was selling Apple II's and ITT2020's in Tottenham Court Road back in 1979.

The ITT2020 was made under licence from Apple. It had 9-bit RAM for video and a built-in PAL modulator, meaning that the video mapping wasn't exactly the same as the Apple. As a result, Apple software with hi-res graphics wouldn't run on it properly, you ended up with vertical stripes on the display, and no-one wrote software dedicated to the IT2020.

Technically, the ITT2020 was slightly superior to the Apple II because of it's slightly higher resolution graphics.

ITT then got into a lawsuit for selling Apple DOS drives, which apparently wasn't part of the deal with Apple. The ITT2020 disappeared when Apple started selling European versions of the Apple II.

Amusing that the OP considers this era 'early British computing'. What about Colussus, Leo and English Electric? (I knew people who worked on the latter two).

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Early British computing is LEO, ICL, PLAN and VME not the ZX 80 and its successors

http://en.m.wikipedi...i/LEO_(computer)

http://www.leo-computers.org.uk

And not forgetting Tommy Flowers and Colossus. One thing I can never forgive Churchill for is his destroying the machines and their blueprints, to hide the technology.

The ZX80 and it's successors are a different stream: personal computers, and as such they were world-leading in that they brought affordable computing to the masses. IIRC, the original IBM PC was around £1800, and that was just the "system" unit. The monitor, keyboard and any storage were extra...

So us Brits can be proud that we basically invented computers, and brought them to the masses.

BTW, Sinclair used to complain it was impossible for him to get investment money from the banks, it seems they liked a "marketing plan". However, when your plan consisted of a producing a novelty entirely unfamiliar to the bankers, and you could not thus demonstrate any market, they deferred. He used to say the best way of getting money out of a bank, was with a shotgun...

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Got a Vic 20 for Xmas when I was a youngster and wrote a program that made my name scroll down the screen ad infintum. Soon thought what a load of sh1t and went out to play with my mates.

I didn't stop there though. Although I did have mates. I went on to learn just about everything except "machine code" on my Commodore 64 which leads directly to how I come to be sat here now in my "office room" typing this in my spare time from being a self employed developer.

I do sometimes wonder where it would have all gone had I not got into computing. Or, if I'd had the BBC computer instead ;)

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In a whole 3 year degree, the computing element was 2 hours with an Apple II. I made coloured dots appear on the screen. What a crock of shit!

Previous to that, I had worked for the Post Office in London, on real "computers" in telephone exchanges, with moving parts, so Tommy Flowers is God to me!

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Yes.

Clive Sinclair appropriated my ASR33 to start work on the ZX80. I was working for Sinclair Radionics, designing automatic test gear for the little TV (remember that?), using the National Semiconductors SC/MP and the RCA 1802 cpu's. Shortly after, the whole TV department was made redundant. Out of this sprang Thurlby, Thandar, Number One systems and a few others. One lucky guy, Nigel Tilbury, got to be the comms guy for "Treasure Hunt", and spent his time chasing Anneka Rice's rear.

A friend and I for a time, tried to bring to market the ATE we had been designing - with only a moderate success. We used the 6502 (also featured in the Acorn and BBC computers) as an embedded processor, and various Apple 2's as presentation devices. The first Apple2 we had was an oddity - an ITT2020 - a makeshift cludge to work under the European television standards before Apple designed the 2e proper.

I have to say there was a real "can do" atmosphere at the time, whereas nowadays in the regulatory environment we have, it would be nigh impossible for limited capital technology start-ups to even get going.

Hey wow - a real pioneer! Genuinely impressed. And when you say "my" ASR33 do you mean you designed that?

Anybody have a Newbury Newbrain?

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Early British computing is LEO, ICL, PLAN and VME not the ZX 80 and its successors

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LEO_(computer)

http://www.leo-computers.org.uk

Well yes, but the big industry ones are not what I meant. It was the smaller ones whose adverts filled the pages of the Computer magazines I bought in manifold profusion which I with my pocket money budget could not hope to afford until Uncle Clive came along with his budget marvels.

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Hey wow - a real pioneer! Genuinely impressed. And when you say "my" ASR33 do you mean you designed that?

Anybody have a Newbury Newbrain?

Good Lord no. The ASR33 was a teletype, 75 baud IIRC - the only way we had to get I/O in those early days. Paper tape and punched cards were for the big boys.

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My father was an electronics engineer back in the day, repairing gaming machines. Ex RAF. We took delivery of a ZX81 and he reverse-engineered it to find out how to design a Z80 sub-system (including the RAM pack and the Colpitts oscillator used to generate the negative voltage rail for the 4116 RAM chips) and then designed UK sound boards for imported gaming machines. Anyone remember the good old AY-38910 ?? He also worked for a company licensed to service Commodore products, so there were more than a few PETs knocking around the house.

He wrote two games tapes for the ZX81. We tried selling them ourselves and got nowhere - a copy sent to a guy in Scotland who wrote a nice letter back. Then we went with a marketing company and sold games in the US - leading to a royalty cheque for a few hundred quid which was quite a lot back in those days.

We used to get sent machines so he could port the games - we had a Camputers Lynx and a Jupiter Ace in the house at one point. Even made the ZX81 RAM pack work with the Jupiter for a whole 19K of free memory. We did ports of games for the 16K ZX81 too. I've found the games tapes and our Pacman-style game archived on the web since.

I got a Spectrum 16K, a Commodore 64 and then an Amiga. I wrote games, applications and articles for Commodore Computing International and Amiga User International from the early eighties right up until 1993.

Good days as I remember. The UK was a really exciting place to be and the computer boom was unique to us, I think. Still remember going into Dixons and buying my ZX Printer and then popping in to Tandy with their TRASH-80s.

The earliest I go back would be to something like the UK 101 which was a rip-off of the US Superboard computer sold from a shop somewhere on the North circular road if I remember correctly. Computers like the Tangerine too. Remember going to a "science club" at a sixth form college back when I was at middle school and they had Research Machines (380Z) and a few BBC micros.

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My father was an electronics engineer back in the day, repairing gaming machines. Ex RAF. We took delivery of a ZX81 and he reverse-engineered it to find out how to design a Z80 sub-system (including the RAM pack and the Colpitts oscillator used to generate the negative voltage rail for the 4116 RAM chips) and then designed UK sound boards for imported gaming machines. Anyone remember the good old AY-38910 ?? He also worked for a company licensed to service Commodore products, so there were more than a few PETs knocking around the house.

He wrote two games tapes for the ZX81. We tried selling them ourselves and got nowhere - a copy sent to a guy in Scotland who wrote a nice letter back. Then we went with a marketing company and sold games in the US - leading to a royalty cheque for a few hundred quid which was quite a lot back in those days.

We used to get sent machines so he could port the games - we had a Camputers Lynx and a Jupiter Ace in the house at one point. Even made the ZX81 RAM pack work with the Jupiter for a whole 19K of free memory. We did ports of games for the 16K ZX81 too. I've found the games tapes and our Pacman-style game archived on the web since.

I got a Spectrum 16K, a Commodore 64 and then an Amiga. I wrote games, applications and articles for Commodore Computing International and Amiga User International from the early eighties right up until 1993.

Good days as I remember. The UK was a really exciting place to be and the computer boom was unique to us, I think. Still remember going into Dixons and buying my ZX Printer and then popping in to Tandy with their TRASH-80s.

The earliest I go back would be to something like the UK 101 which was a rip-off of the US Superboard computer sold from a shop somewhere on the North circular road if I remember correctly. Computers like the Tangerine too. Remember going to a "science club" at a sixth form college back when I was at middle school and they had Research Machines (380Z) and a few BBC micros.

Tangerine Computers. Another spin-off from Sinclair radionics. Nigel Tilbury, Mark Rainer, Paul Johnson. I think I bought their prototype, or at least very early, VDU. A nice anecdote about Mark Rainer, he went down to the DHSS to sign on, and told them his current occupation was CRT designer (which he was). That'll keep them busy for a while, he said, finding me a suitable position....

I remember my first 8086 machine was an Apricot. Very fruity in those days, we were.

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Tangerine Computers. Another spin-off from Sinclair radionics. Nigel Tilbury, Mark Rainer, Paul Johnson. I think I bought their prototype, or at least very early, VDU. A nice anecdote about Mark Rainer, he went down to the DHSS to sign on, and told them his current occupation was CRT designer (which he was). That'll keep them busy for a while, he said, finding me a suitable position....

I remember my first 8086 machine was an Apricot. Very fruity in those days, we were.

Worked with a guy from Sinclair Radionics - Steve Olday. He remembers the days of the TV unit being taken over and Sinclair himself starting up other companies including one called "Anamartic" (I think?) - the idea being to produce complete computer systems on a single chip.

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Good Lord no. The ASR33 was a teletype, 75 baud IIRC - the only way we had to get I/O in those early days. Paper tape and punched cards were for the big boys.

You had to send "Ltrs Ltrs Ltrs" to get the motor up to speed, as it was 5 bit BAUDOT code! One caught fire on me! Most of the ones I saw were the similar KSR33 which worked on "current loop".

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Learnt to code on the Z80 on the spectrum.

Was weird the sort of things you would put up with back in the day.

The moved on to the 68000 but never really got into this as well, too little time.

The Z80 stuff stood me in good stead when I wanted to build control systems for the scientific instruments I produce. So mucking around with all that stuff in a mispent youth did eventually have some use. There is a world of difference though between FPGA coding and Z80. But some of the consequences are the same. The 1 hour compilation time I suppose is pretty equivalent to the crash and reload on the Spectrum !

Playing the Last of Us on the PS3 at the moment. Probably off topic, but stunning to see how far games have come in the last 30 years. I remember a time when people claimed you could get addicted to playing space invaders. WTF ?

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Worked with a guy from Sinclair Radionics - Steve Olday. He remembers the days of the TV unit being taken over and Sinclair himself starting up other companies including one called "Anamartic" (I think?) - the idea being to produce complete computer systems on a single chip.

We had an Anamartic SSD in the mid 90s. Basically a couple of RAM wafers in a box with a lot of electronics to ensure they only used the working parts.

Let's just say that, in many parts of the country, you could have bought a house for the same price.

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we had a Camputers Lynx and a Jupiter Ace in the house at one point. Even made the ZX81 RAM pack work with the Jupiter for a whole 19K of free memory. We did ports of games for the 16K ZX81 too.

to the Ace? That used Forth so that's quite a good achievement.

I designed a real keyboard for the Ace - designed and made a double sided PCB, electronics and real keys as well as box.

At college we had an ICL 1900 which used punch cards, you would debug programs with bit of stick paper to cover holes in the cards. There was also a valve computer in the basement (I wonder if it is still there), it would run for a few minutes before a valve would blow, you would then have to hunt for the blown valve and restart it but it would restart from the exact point it had reached when the valve blew.

The great thing about the early days of computing is that loads of burds in miniskirts were employed to tend to the machines, programmers just had to hand over their cards for a run.

1967%20ICL%201900%201969%20and%20Elliot%204130%201967.jpg

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