Sunday, April 10, 2011

The wheel turns full circle

The recent appearance of this item of technological news on the BBC website has been the cause of much quiet hilarity in the Transit household. Quiet, because DH and I are still suffering the after-effects of the horrendous cold so kindly passed on to us by Grandson #1 during our visit, which means that laughing out loud soon becomes coughing out loud and for much longer. Hilarity, nonetheless, because until relatively recently our loft contained the remains of at least one of the original Commodore 64 models, bought by DH at the dawn of the personal computer era.

It was back in the late 1970s that DH, then working in education, was asked by an old college friend to look critically at some educational software which his firm was going to launch in the UK. On his return DH said something about having seen the future and was then immediately reabsorbed into his frantically busy working life.

But it wasn’t long before he decided that this new development was too important to ignore and became the proud possessor of one of the first Commodore PET machines to be imported into the UK, complete with integral cassette data storage and a massive 8KB of RAM.

That first purchase set the pattern for the future. In 1982 the PET was superseded by the Commodore 64, which of course DH bought, and it was on these two very basic machines that DS and DD learned first to use computers and then to program them. 

This photo isn’t of the highest quality to say the least (a scan of an original which started to fade years ago) and I can assure you that DS, at the tender age of 12 or so, (no dated photos back then) was NOT working underwater. But he was acquiring a skill which has stood him in very good stead ever since, and already knew more about computer programming than i will ever learn.

My only regret about those far-off pioneer days of home computing is that we had no spare cash to invest in the very small, new software company that DH spotted at the first computer exhibition he ever went to, and thought might go places. Its name was Microsoft.


  1. So sorry you've been sick - but what fun this is. I saw a pic of my first computer (the original Macintosh) and remember how the 128K memory would be more than enough for everything! Ha.

  2. Gosh, that was fast, Penny! I was just having a final check after posting before going to bed and there was your comment. The wonder of computers and the Internet :-)

  3. Thanks for the techno-memories, Perpetua! My first computer in 1982 was a Kaypro II. It had a 9 inch screen and was housed in a very heavy metal box. It had the worst software I've ever seen! But it seemed like a miracle at the time. I had typed my first book (an 832 page manuscript) on a portable electric typewriter while wearing Ace bandages on my wrists. So any type of computer was a very welcome change! I share your wistfulness about Microsoft. Who knew?? Hope you and DH feel better soon!

  4. I think I had a Sinclair whatever it was..and I loved did the secretaries freed from interpreting my handwriting!

    Mr Fly invested in bio companies in the eighties..lost a packet...before his time as always!

  5. We had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and I loved writing the program that made it do stuff. Meant that I kept up enough of an interest to make me employable later in life.

  6. Isn't it interesting we can all remember our first computer, whatver we've had since?

    Kathy, the computer must have been suh a boon to writers such as you - the ability to save work and re-arrange and revise it without wasting any paper. Marvellous!

    Ho hum, if only we'd known is the mantra of all unsuccessful investors...

    Fly, I wonder whether all secretaries and typists welcomed the advent of computers, even if it did mean not having to decipher poor handwriting? After all, I'm guessing rather a lot of them eventually lost jobs because of it.

    Rosie, you learned to program? Respect! I'm afraid I kept well away from all that side of computers, to my shame. I have the excuse that I was very busy with other things, but I should have tried while my brain was young enough to absorb new techniques.

  7. We were told that the computer would mean an end to paper....and secretaries...
    Both seem to be flourishing!

  8. That's what DH has just said, Fly!

    I think what I meant is that we see fewer people whose job just consists of typing, as in the vast typing pools of yore. Instead secretaries' work is more varied and they probably take on more general admin work, now that form letters and templates can be stored and tweaked for future use.

  9. I started teaching in the pre computer era and I remember valiantly trying to teach children to programme a dot to move round the screen on our new BBC B computers. I was a young enthusiastic teacher who embraced each new development. Wiser, older colleagues soon became disenchanted by these machines that regularly crashed in the middle of a lesson. The difference from today's classroom was that we were trying to teach the children to write simple programs not use commercial software.

  10. And that's a big difference, Curate's Wife. Our children were going through school in that era, so had similar tuition there as well as home. In contrast our young grandsons are all very expert at using computers, but the machines are too complex to teach them how to program them.

    I'd forgotten just how flakey early machines were, and can imagine how difficult it must have been when the hardware kept letting you down.

  11. I had one of those!

    My Dad was an electronics engineer every Christmas my brother and I received the latest piece of must have technology.

    However, my Dad worked away and would have bought the item in September so that by the time we received it at Christmas it was second hand!

    K xxx

  12. Unforgettable, aren't they, Karen? Actually, I hardly touched ours back in those very early days. It was very much a dad and kids thing at first. I only really started using computers habitually when the library I worked in introduced them. Now I can't imagine life without them.

    I love the idea of your Dad getting some use out of your state of the art Christmas presents before passing them on to you. Sensible man!

  13. Oops - shame about the Microsoft thing!
    Don't know what we'd do without computers these days - far from stopping us reading or talking or doing something more 'useful', as a family, we research and discuss and follow up a much wider range of subjects than we would without them. We go places we've found out about online, we talk to people about things that interest us even if they're on the other side of the world - and we can see and speak to our families and friends wherever they are through SKYPE.
    I love technology!

  14. Wasn't it, Annie?

    I agree entirely about the life-enhancing aspects of computers and especially the internet. Without them we wouldn't be enjoying reading and commenting on each other's blogs, because there would be no blogs. Perish the thought! :-)

  15. The Husband still has all his old Pooters up in the loft, going back to the up there! late 1970s. It's a veritable museum of computing, up there! He was telling The Naval Nephew on Monday that one of the early 1980s ones cost him £3000. I think that was the sum The Daughter's Father parted with for his first PC/Word Processor set-up in 1983, a Compaq with a small green screen and a pyjama-paper daisywheel printer.

    Crazy world of computing!

  16. Not sure I dare tell DH that, Baby Sis. We had so much stuff to schlepp from place to place when I moved parishes that I made him get rid of some of the oldest stuff. Of course he now claims they would be valuable museum pieces :-)

  17. I still have a BBC B. And the Acorn Electron I bought with what was left over from my first-year university grant (around £100 in 1983). That particular machine got me out of a week's number-crunching on my industrial placement a couple of years later: I wrote a program to do it and finished the whole lot in an afternoon. My supervisor was not pleased!

    I suppose my interest started with the calculator my father brought home from work in 1977. It was a Hewlett-Packard using Reverse Polish Notation and cost the Foreign Office a sum well into four figures.

  18. Hi Andrew and thanks for dropping in. We do remember and often hold on to these first machines, don't we? I'd forgotten, though, just hoe expensive some of them were.
    Mind you, finishing a week's work in an afternoon wasn't to be sniffed at and I bet you thought it was worth every penny :-) It must have been quite hard for people like supervisors to adapt their way of working to take account of the help computers could give their students.


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