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back to article Britain’s forgotten first home computer pioneer: John Miller-Kirkpatrick

Too few people today remember John Miller-Kirkpatrick, the enthusiastic founder, owner, manager and technical director of Bywood Electronics. He died in December 1978 at the monstrously young age of 32, less than two years before the début of the Sinclair ZX80 and the start of the UK home computing boom – for which he had helped …

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affordable???

"the Scrumpi, which went on sale for just £65 but soon fell to £56, affordable for almost every electronics enthusiasts and MPU buffs"

that was two weeks wages for me back then...

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Re: affordable???

> that was two weeks wages for me back then

Well, you were earning more than me, then. A week's hard graft at the MAD LAB (Materials Applications and Development) left me with £22.78 in my pocket. Something over 100 pints of beer, to use a more practical unit of measure.

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Re: affordable???

I was a teenager growing up in South Africa back then. My holiday job earned be about 1 GBP per day.

I could afford to buy ETI magazine and could sometimes afford to buy some parts for a project.

I remember drooling over the micro boares - including the SC/MP... and also that girl on the ETI cover with the disco lights project in it.

I eventually got an HP29C in 1979. Learned to program on that.

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Re: affordable???

I was on £49 per month as a trainee working for NCR in their Birmingham Computer suites. All valves and ferrite rings in them days.

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Re: affordable???

Blimey! I just worked it back. I was on a little under 74 quid a week (one of the old crew - working since 1974). I remember the pain of stumping up for a ZX80 (over £100 for the kit version - couldn't countenance the cost of the ready built).

Thanks for the detailed look at a pioneer who passed me by at the time. Fascinating stuff, and a small glass of something not to expensive for all involved (that's A glass - bring your own straws)

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I'd venture that the 4k limit

was because he didn't spend money on the high nibble latch - the INS8060 could handle 64k but has a somewhat idiosyncratic addressing model.

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Re: I'd venture that the 4k limit

Event the mini-computers of the age used similar addressing models. Mind you 4K in those days was the price of a good sized house.

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Great article.

Thank you. Had never heard of this chap. Beautifully written and somewhat touching article. May he rest in peace. He made a contribution, and he was honoured today.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great article.

A good article indeed.

(But could you sound any more American? ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

That Natsemi SC/MP development kit formed my introduction to microprocessors. I bought one to play with at home and spent many happy evenings in my teeny workshop under the stairs. At the time I lived in a ground floor flat with a maisonette above. Never had a Bywood product though. Possibly I should have. I skipped the first Nascom, and the 6502 board and moved to a Nascom 2 which ended up with a wire wrap home designed video, floppy disk controller and CP/M. There was a shop in Windsor where I used to buy all my bits but I can no longer remember its name.

I imported the CP/M complete with raw BIOS manual from a firm called Lifeboat Associates in the US. And the first floppy disk drive cost £125 I recall.

Ah, the old days, these kids don't know they're born!!! After the CP/M machine I imported one of the first IBMPC compatible bare boards. But by the time I'd assembled all the bits and put it together, ready made boards were available and much cheaper. Things were moving fast...

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Only £125?

I remember floppy drives being a lot more expensive than that until c1982 or 83.

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I thought I had never heard of the man or his work till I saw the advert for the Scrumpi 1 and Scrumpi 2 and I remember seeing it in electronics mags as a child. I may even still have a late 70s magazine with that advert in it. Not something I would have remembered without the distinctive style.

Thanks for the great article.

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Electronics Today International.

That cover shot is of the 2nd ETI I ever bought (err... for the Electronics In Model Railways article, not for the cover picture, I'm sure!) - I was 13 at the time and bored with Everyday Electronics. I tried Practical Electronics too, but preferred ETI - it was more computery, which I was more interested in while PE seemed more audio-y back they.

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Re: Electronics Today International.

Phwoar - ETI! A great mag of its time. When I first ordered ETI, our newsagent must never have heard of it as a couple of weeks later I was presented with a copy of Electronics Today and a copy of Club International (sadly hastily withdrawn by the shopkeeper when I replied 14 to 'how old are you anyway'). I really wanted to build the System 68 but no way could I afford it - my programming career was spawned by disassembling the lump of binary presented as its OS/monitor.

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Re: Electronics Today International.

Great Mag, sometimes iffy projects though. The various clocks using CT-7001 modules sucked but I did battle throught and complete the synthesizer. I lost count of how many issues it was serialised over.

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DJO
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Sinclair shipped first the ZX81 and then the Spectrum

Let me fix that

Sinclair shipped first the ZX80 then the ZX81 followed by the Spectrum

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RTFA! It mentions the ZX80 in the previous paragraph.

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DJO
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Toxteth,

I know the ZX80 was mentioned more than once prior to that sentence, but that does not affect the sentence as written

BTW. Are you related to Toxteth O'Grady who famously put 604 marshmallows up one nostril?

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Not that Toxteth

Wasnt he famous for the Smelliest bottom burp ever?

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DJO
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Re: Not that Toxteth

MIKE: [reads the book's title] "The Daily Mirror Book of Facts: Did You Know".

NEIL: Do you think that's where they get the questions from?

[Neil starts reading the book with great interest]

"The world's record for stuffing marshmallows up one single nostril..."

VYVYAN: Ehhh, "Six-hundred and four, Toxteth O'Grady, U.S.A."

NEIL: Yeah, right! "World's stickiest bogey?"

VYVYAN: Ha! Tried to fool me. That's Toxteth again!

RICK: The World's Stupidest Bottom-Burp: Vyvyan, Britain!

NEIL: It says "Rick" here, actually.

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What the world needs now ...

We need a Scrumpi simulator written in PyPy to run on the Raspberry Pi. Yes, that's right, a ScrumpiPyPyPi.

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I worked on that copy of ETI and Computing today - just saying.

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Well done. An excellent magazine in its time. And responsible I'm sure for the initiation of many of our engineers.

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Pint

Here's a beer to go with my upvote - really enjoyed that magazine in the late 70's and early 80's.

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"I worked on that copy of ETI"

Ok, I'll ask what every other person who remembers wants to know...

Did you have problems with the Triac overheating? And, oh, by the way, what's that dancing girl's name?

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Re: "I worked on that copy of ETI"

@Charles

that issue was from 1978 - she must be heading towards 60 by now!

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Re: "I worked on that copy of ETI"

"that issue was from 1978 - she must be heading towards 60 by now!"

That's OK. Don't tell anyone, but so am I.

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Telly Tax

Of course, connecting an inexpensive computer to a TV set used as a monitor was easier here in Canada or in the U.S., because in Britain, keeping an extra TV around the house means paying an extra annual license fee.

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Re: Telly Tax

Um, no.

We didn't tend to have more than one TV just because, well, who needs more than one?

Extra domestic TVs carried no extra license fee.

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Re: Telly Tax

Bzzzzt! Wrong.

The UK TV licence fee is charged per address, not per set. You can have as many TV receivers as you like, each one tuned to a different advertisement-free channel, for less than 50 pence per day.

The BBC is the only broadcaster in the world which is in the business of selling programmes to viewers. Every other broadcasting company is in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. And I, for one, consider that something worth celebrating.

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Re: Telly Tax

A J Stiles, you are me and I claim my five pounds.

But then, I did work for them directly or indirectly for over thirty years; if you cut me in half it says 'BBC' through the middle.

Mind you, I'm not so sure of them since they started employing commercial execs who seem to think everything is a ratings war and all production should be outsourced.

Nonetheless: as you point out their charter is to deliver programmes to viewers/listeners. *Every* other broadcaster in the world is in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Long may they continue.

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Re: Telly Tax

Not actually. One licence fee per household, regardless of how many TVs you had. That's how old people's homes and student halls of residence could get away with one licence fee for dozens of sets.

It wasn't a 'telly tax' anyway. The fee granted you the legal right to receive, decode, watch and write blistering complaint letters in response to transmissions (Radio & TV) from the Beeb.

Still works better than commercial breaks and programme sponsorship too.

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RE: Telly Tax

No it doesn't, never did.

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Bought one... Still got it...

I bought a Scrumpi kit. £60 for a kit was a very large sum at the time.

Power supply not included. You had to program in binery since both data and address buses were shown by LEDs and data set by switches. I wore out the right hand “Step” switch.

It eventually ended up in college in a Differential Pulse Polarography rig.

It had a very expensive 12 bit A/D converter and an 8 bit D/A (output to a chart recorder).

I interfaced a bought-in board so that I could record/read data from a cassette recorder. I sent off to have a 32x8 PROM programmed which was used to boot from. I expanded the memory with SRAM on a bit of veroboard. I think to 1.5k.

The whole lot was self-funded from my grant (remember those!) as none of my lecturers knew WTF I was on about.

Still got the whole thing somewhere. Must find it and see if it still works…

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That name

There was a "John Savard" on Usenet back in the day, regarded by all who read him as the Wrongest Man on the Internet. I wonder if this is the same one?

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Re: That name

No, it is not the same John. Did you read the article in full?

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Re: That name

I was referring to a Reg poster named John Savard, not Mr. Miller-Kirkpatrick.

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Unhappy

Three is a parallel history to be had here.

Sadly it will never be written.

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Still on the shelf behind me.

Still got a Scrumpi on the nostalgia shelf behind me in the shack - next to the Sinclair Scientific calculator.

Contact bounce on the switches was a nightmare - but at least it wasn't too bad learning the SC/MP instruction set by heart. I recall nearly passing out when told the price of a 2708 eprom for the thing though.

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You read stories like this and

you just wonder where the UK went wrong between then and now

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US/UK Exchange rate

There are companies who simply change the $ sign for a £ sign and call that the UK price; most are more reasonable.”

Not a lot has changed there then in the past 40years.

Sometimes it is almost worth flying over the pond and buying the kit in the US especially in places that don't charge sales tax and bringing it back with you.

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I missed those days

I got my first computer on Christmas day 1984 (a VZ200 - an Australian rip off of the TRS-80) so I missed those really early days. Nowadays I work in the embedded industry and it is really like it is still in the 1970s! There is not much available in terms of operating systems and it is all about banging the hardware registers directly and every thing is interrupts, interrupt and more interrupts! It is amazing just how little things have changed in 30+ years. The hardware is much more capable but the concepts are all the same.

But I have always felt that I missed out because in those "old days" you could be a single engineer and make a whole product yourself. These days projects are huge and you will only ever be a member of a team working on something and thus have only limited impact on the design and implementation of the product. I always enjoy reading about people like John Miller-Kirkpatrick (not to mention other trailblazers like Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry) and feel a little bit jealous of what they did!

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Paris Hilton

ETI

Despite a degree in physics I found transistor circuit theory impenetrable; all those h parameters etc.. Then I read an article in ETI which explained that the voltage gain of a common-collector amplifier stage was (40 x the dc voltage across the collector load resistor) as near as dammit. This was typical of their articles; the approach was to give a simple account or theory with the emphasis on actually getting on and building a circuit.

(BTW, wasn't one of their contributors obsessed with Felicity Kendal and mentioned her in almost every article?}

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