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back to article BBC Micro creators meet to TRACE machine's legacy

The brains behind the must-have home computer of the early 1980s, the BBC Micro, will gather today to catch up and reminisce about a time when Britain led the way in the domestic computing revolution. Acorn Computers co-founder Hermann Hauser and Acorn hardware designer Steve Furber - now ICL Professor of Computer Engineering at …

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Happy

try this one

pod can pop

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Pirate

Vince Clarke as celebrity endorsee

I remember seeing Erasure at my alma mater just before they got famous, and Vince's arsenal was a pair of BBC Bs and the UMI sequencer and three or four expanders on stands across the back of the stage. The old setup still lives in his studio and I seem to recall it has been used on a tune or two on recent LPs. He used to swear by its timekeeping.

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Command prompt

At least it had a command prompt so you could see when something had loaded. Only way to tell on my old acorn atom was that the screen flickering stopped.

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Re:Elite

I became Elite,but only by typing the cheat program in from Micro User,you could max your weapons and get everything by just putting FF in the correct boxes.

I used to also have a Music 500 that some kind soul upgraded to a 5000 by flashing the EEPROM for me,I built a keyboard for that sourced from watford I think.

Also had a replay chip in mine that allowed you to pause a game at any point and also you could input cheat codes that were provided and were also printed in magazines.

Mine also used to lock up when it got warm,and I had to keep the lid unscrewed so I could spray the ULA chip with Freeze-It to make it work again.

Best Games - Elite,Repton,Aviator and my Fav Chollo

Ah Happy days

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Best machine? why?

Why does one machine have to be the best? there were many computers around during its lifetime.

People were still using them in the mid 80s and at that time the Amiga A1000 was around and that seriously blew away all of the 8-bit machines around at the time.

The Beeb was okay, ideal for education and people who liked to write programs and make hardware as their hobby. There were some good games for it, but ultimately it was too expensive for home users and it lost out in the playground as none of your peers owned one.

I never met anyone who had a beeb at home, if anyone had an Acorn then it was the electron.

For the younger generation the Spectrums and Commodores were much more fun. Commodore having better hardware on the whole.

The C64 had a great demo scene and people pushed the hardware to the limits.

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Happy

I'll never forget...

...the rocket I got from falling asleep at the Christmas table between courses, mainly because I had stayed up all the previous night playing Elite.

Ah, happy days...

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Happy

Memories

I remember my headmaster at primary school allowing me to spend lunch breaks on my own with the schools BBC B.

Eventually some of my frends cottoned on, but they soon lost interest when they realsied I wasnt playing games but actually programming it.

Sadly I moved schools in P7 and at my new one you would have thought the thing was made of pixie dust - I swear in the year I was there I saw it come out of a cupboard once.

I certainly haven't been near one in well over 20 years, and despair at the thought that my kids won't know the joys of typing up a program and moving the asterisk through a wall of dashes.

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Heart

Pod can...

...jump!

...run!

...fly!

...swim!

Of course 'pop' was always the class favourite. IIRC, 'explode' worked too.

Anyone else remember Suburban Fox? "You were shot by a farmer" Not these days!

/drowns in nostalgia drool...

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Happy memories

Great computer and definitely responsible for my IT-based choice of career.

Check out Chris Whytehead's museum of just about everything that Acorn ever released at http://acorn.chriswhy.co.uk/

Random stuff that was cool at the time:

AMX Mouse and AMX Super Art: The BBC micro's answer to MacPaint. Not a bad effort, very Mac-like GUI, although only four colours, small canvas and a painfully slow software pan/scroll. Some spin-offs such as the MAX mouse-based desktop which seemed to be useful for just about nothing.

Music 500 and Music 5000: Both used the same external 8-voice synth hardware (in the ubiquitous yellow/beige box) but the 5000 had ROM-based software and used loadable modules to implement a mixing desk, notation editor and program editor. All based on a FORTH-like language which was the bee's knees, allowing control of music events, definition of sound envelopes and waveforms and even system level memory poking and data structures.

Exile: For me the best game released for the BBC. Smooth multi-directional scrolling, sampled speech, physics engine. Cor!

Overheating ULA chip in the original model B. The heatsink on it seemed to only just manage the job and occasionally didn't.

Bug in the tape handling routines in the initial OS release which meant that sometimes your programs didn't save. You had to remember to load a patch before saving, or save at 300 baud rather than 1200. Forgetting to do either of those was common...

Mike Cook's hardware projects in the Micro User Magazine, e.g. foot-operated joystick made out of mercury switches, half a ballcock and a piece of board.

Granny's Garden! "That was not a good idea..." Aieeeee!

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Heart

Oh I forgot...

Pod Can't Fart!

Finding out what he couldn't do was more fun than the stuff he wouldn't do because he would always faithfully reprint what you entered :)

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Coat

Good memories

I remember spending days typing in programmes from magazines - then spending weeks debuging them. Good fun, excellent machines and had a lot of excellent games.

I made it to 'Elite' on both the BBC B and the 'cut down BBC' (Electron). Not managed to beat Repton 2 though.

I have still a working BBC B and a BBC Master (rescued from a skip) at work as well as 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 disk drives and a 6502 tube... (yes, sad geek but oh well).

If you want the 'retro' you can get 'BeebEm' for free as well as a lot of games too.

Anyone remember 'Magic Mushrooms' or designed any fun levels for it?

Okay okay - mines the one beige one with the red lapel.

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Middle class Micro?

Not when it was in your school, then it was accessable to any creed or class.

I was sub-poverty line when I first started playing Chuckie Egg, er, I mean, using LOGO to draw three foot pentragrams and swear words to put on the classroom wall - great times. me and my mate Chris were the only ones who could 'complete' chuckie egg.

It was what got me into computers - shortly afterwards a [middle class ;-)] mate got a 486 and was pretty feckless at using it, so I would get called down a couple of times a week...

I now do desktop support, imaging, rollouts, hardware teching, and am currently applying for a tasty looking hardware/systems testing job for a nice round £30k.

And it's all the BBC Micro's fault.

W00t for the M1cr0 LOLZ OMFG R0><0RZ!!11!!!eleventy etc.

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Guy
Happy

The BBC at last, I wouldn't call it forgotten though

"So while the BBC's Project may not have engendered computer literacy in the way the Corporation originally hoped"

I disagree - I say the BBC machines engendered a great deal of computer literacy. Just about all the geeks of my age can point to a BBC somewhere in their past that taught them the basic fundamentals they still refer to today. They were so easy to use that they encouraged playing on them to see what you could do (Which is of course the best way to learn)

BASIC - Was, well, basic, but it taught the use of variables, memory, even modules (if you abused the often maligned GOTO command)

Oh and yes, there was definitely an element of hacking involved as well, which only helped keep us playing with them, nothing peeks the interest like trying to do something you shouldn't (For fun of course, never malicious)

Oh and Elite - I made deadly and Repton was excellent.

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Memories!

"the beast still fired up a treat, including discs. I'd like to see a current generation desktop PC do that (obviously 20 years from now of course)"

Heh, actually some of them have trouble "firing up a treat" from the moment you first take them out of the box. OS name omitted to protect the guilty...

I had a Speccy at home of course, but my school had networked Beebs (your login id was an 8-bit hexadecimal number, and the password was 4 characters long! Oddly enough I don't remember mine, but I do remember one of my classmates login details). We had a "big" Winchester disk and an Epson LX-80 printer in the corner, shared across the network, all terribly high-tech when you were used to loading stuff from audio tapes.

Had great fun with them on morning break and lunchtime, loved the (somewhat structured) BASIC and different graphics modes, even had a program set up so that hitting CTRL-BREAK (or was it SHIFT-BREAK?) would autoboot it, setting MODE 3 and configuring all the F-keys to my liking, ready for a bit of coding. (At the time I didn't realize that I was losing over half my available RAM by going into MODE 3, I just preferred the 80-column mode for programming.)

Our GCSE projects were done in ISO Pascal (in ROM, the extra ROM sockets you could install software into being another neat Beeb feature). I still remember being able to provoke it into throwing more compile errors than there were lines of code to compile!

The BBC-A's screen modes: it wasn't that it couldn't do modes 0-3, so much as it could if only it had enough RAM. Those modes all took up more than 16k in memory, kind of a problem when you only *have* 16k to start with...

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Heart

We saved up for a 40/80 Drive

It took us 2 years to save up for the BBC B that we eventually bought as a family Christmas Present - no bikes or dolls houses that year!

I never really got past some moderate basic programs, but it brings back some fond memories:

- Made it to Deadly in Elite - you needed some serious dedication to get to "Elite" (dedication I eventually found on the Arc)

- Hitting Escape in "Bismarck!" to find it was actually all in uncompiled BASIC, and hacking it so that using a particular password for my turn would give me super-duper ships. And writing the hack in 150 bytes, as that was all the RAM that was left available

- Writing BASIC out of Beebug magazine,and then running the checksum program to check for typos.

- Saving/copying games using my Watford Electronics Replay ROM, and drilling a hole in the back of the case for the CPU interrupt switch

- Filling all but one of my ROM slots

- Aviator - landing upside down, and flying between the buildings and under the bridge

- Finding who could do all three stunts in the quickest time.

- Racing against Hugh Jengine in Revs

- Writing some training software in MODE 7 using 'SPEECH', for my 6th form project

I still have mine in my parents' loft, next to my Archimedes A410; I think they've both been waiting for a moment like this.....

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I've still got one...

Picked up a BBC Master for free from Glasgow University when they were chucking them out - and with it came the stupidly-expensive-at-the-time hard drive - all of 2 megabytes capacity!

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Alert

MSX

Nice list of other computers that people had who couldn't afford the BBC B, I settled for one not on the list - the Japanese MSX, this was for those who couldn't even afford the C-64's/Spectrums, later on I went up to a C64 which electrocuted me with a dodgy plug, and then went over to the ZX Spectrum +2 and finally came back to Commodore with the Amiga (after seeing an ST emulator I'm really glad I evaded that one!). I also ended up with the BBC smaller brother - The Acorn Electron!

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Ah the 6502

Most fun you can have with your clothes on....and maybe off umm :p

I had my first taste of programming on that puppy in 1997 would u believe. Though I also had to do COBOL as well, damn you millenium bug, though at the time it didn't seem bad its working with it since thats peeved me off :|

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Can I just say...

... Right on Commander!

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The engine of Physics labs

Physics experiments everywhere were (and probably still are) powered by BBC model B's. They were extremely reliable machines and a doddle to interface hardware to.

Good ol' days :-)

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Happy

FAO: Richard (and references to ELITE)

Richard - I believe you're thinking of Frak! (not Frank!)

I too only got as far as Deadly on Elite, but, and I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere in the comments, everyone go google RIGHT NOW for this little gem (now "officially" removed following a complaint* by David Braben - yes, THAT David Braben)

Elite TNK (The New Kind) by Christian Pinder

It's Elite as you knew and loved it on the BBC, fully ported (bugs and all) to the modern PC.

Seriously, go - now - and find an illicit download :-)

*David Braben was "forced" to act to protect his rights after someone used the source for TNG to compile a PDA version, and stupidly included a copyright notice - which they had no right to do.

Damn, I *so* wanted a thargoid or cargo logo for this comment !

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Memories....

Elite, Revs, Aviator, Sentinel, Citadel, etc....

Magic Mushrooms ruled, especially that effect where they somehow managed to make the screen shake when you fell to your doom.

For all those 'remembering' BBC Basic, many seem to be forgetting things. Someone talked of using gotos for modular programming. IIRC BBC Basic was pretty advanced for BASIC mostly on account of using Functions and Procedures rather than abusing the GOTO or the GOSUB.

I still have one, Model B, with a 2nd processor (6502) and dual disk drives and a music 500. Got the ROM board, though I can't remember all the ROMS i have. The DFS for the 2nd processor loads off a disc image into Sideways RAM, and Elite runs great with that second 6502 and it's memory to play with. Analog joysticks too! Woo hoo!

The Beeb Micro was responsible for my interest in computers, I learned programming using BBC Basic, Pascal, BCPL and even a touch of assembly. By the time I hit university I was ready for more. Great days.

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Still Have One, Still use the newer versions

I remember programming this little beastie (the real BeeB BBC Model B) when I was about 5 or 6 mostly hello world!

Favorite games POD and Oil RIG a "teletext game" downloaded using our Teletext Decoder!

Then you had the solid state disc (not sure on manufacturer) which would come loose (causing a familiar never ending beep) and a good old bashing / pressing down on the case fixed it to boot up again!

Even a famous software house (Computer Concepts now Xara Ltd) was just down the road from me.

I loved the old Interword ROM

CH."Interword"....ah those were the days!

I still remain to use its younger cousin RiscPC (StrongARM) at work where I use remote desktoping to control various Servers / Creating documents, and technical diagrams, while my PC Laptop is loading / busy crashing. I have even used BBC BASIC on it to code a music player (MP3/OGG) which lives in/out of the desktop environment and can be booted from cold in under 5 seconds!

I wonder how many of you realize the BBC was used to develop the original ARM chip that is in so many different things these days (Mobile Phones, Apple Newton, PACE boxes, RAID interfaces ect)?

Plug: www.virtualacorn.co.uk

Plug: http://acorn.cybervillage.co.uk/emulation/bbc/

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Heart

Scrapheap

I had a Acorn Electron (bought at my first trade show while working for Modem House in Sunderland), work had Beeb's with 3" (Amstrad PCW) floppies.

Fond memories, bought & used a works Beeb for my HNC in electronics in Swindon.

Now contracting in IT for Somerset CC, seen a few Beeb's thrown out for disposal & about 5 (still in original packing & in one complete hit) Masters.

I would have rescued them, but THO would have divorced me & not very practical to export to Canada in the next year or so (& theres enough crap (as she calls it) floating about to junk already).

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Go

Warm fuzzy memories - *I AM .. & !BOOT

Fuzzy - well it was over 25 years ago that I got to play with all that kit. I can still remember 75159 was the code for the Econet line driver chips a.k.a. on-board lightning surge protection.

I loved writing in 6502 assembly code, smaller, neater & faster than BASIC but the ability to call "machine code" sub routines from the BBC's BASIC was brilliant.

Elite (in colour with a 2nd processor) - probably one of the best personal teaching aids there was... game? No Sir!, it's educational - trading economics, spatial awareness(3D scanner was brilliant), hand/eye co-ordination, strategic and real-time tactical decision making.

Ouch moment - brand new "B+" just setup, not even on 30s when a full cup of coffee went all over it.

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Better Programmers?

I think that anyone in the industry that started out using the built in Assembly Compiler on the BBC can stand up and say thats real programming.

Far too many of today's programs are written by bad programmers who do not care about code optimisation and are content on delivering even more bloat ware that is full of bugs and needs patches galore. I once had a word processor, spreadsheet and database package that also allowed 8 pages of text in RAM before it created a file on the floppy to store "pages". Some might of called it a "Page File" strange how that term has now come to mean something different.

The ADC was superb, loads of home made projects, a true inventors dream. I made pressure sensitive doormats that changed the TV to AV and displayed a picture of the person stood at the door. All for fun.

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Telesoftware

I had a Teletext adapter and submitted several programs for transmission over CEEFAX. One of my most popular was a share downloading program which allowed you to automatically download your selection of share prices, daily and plot them out as time series. I had many letters sent on to me from The BBC to make changes to the software.

I was --- E L I T E--- too. Total geek.

There is even to this day some software I wrote in assembler, flying around the skies in a weather research aircraft, controlling an air sampling instrument.

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RE Dogfight

Dogfight was a fantastic game, I never managed to get a BBC, I had the Acorn Electron but that just meant I had to use side "B" on half the tapes. By fair means or foul is still my favorite boxing game. Wait for the ref to turn his head and then start cheating like mad...

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They were called

FRED, JIM and SHEILA. Also, the second processor was called PARASITE and the main one would then become HOST. My favourite though was OSBYTE. There were so many nice system calls; you could do almost anything.

I miss my Beeb.

I need to get out more.

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Happy

Not just a 'Home' Computer

.......Fond Memories............

I used the BBC B computer and later, the Master, for some quite serious applications, including North Sea diver monitoring programs, process control applications, mini and micro fermenter control and monitoring, pressure vessel control and monitoring etc. The computer was connected via the 1Mhz bus to custom designed interfaces, based on the 6520 PIA, 6522 VIA and Analog Devices 12 bit ADC / DAC chips. Some of the systems used networking and also connected to other types of monitoring instruments, via the RS432 port. The software was a hybrid of assembler and BBC Basic.

The 6502 and later 65C12, had a super instruction set and were a joy to program in assembler. Calling discrete machine code routines, from BBC Basic was so easy, when operations were time critical or easier to control, using low level routines. The machine code routines were burned into an EPROM and inserted in one of the ROM expansion sockets, to save program space in the RAM.

Most systems also used a 5 1/4 Floppy disk and the Microvitec monitor.

I also used a BBC B+ at home with a custom built MIDI interface, to control a Yamaha musical keyboard - endless fun..................

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It ain't dead yet!

I grew up with BBC Micros and even swapped my Atari ST for a BBC Micro model B+ 64K. My parents we NOT impressed - until I started actually learning programming on it (remember 6502 assembly language? :D). They forgave me about 5 years later.

But keep in mind that there are emulators out there. Try Beebem (type it in to google) which is almost 100% accurate (no I don't work for them: just a BBC nut :) ). Wish I still had my BBC but it gave up the ghost after the TV modulator went wonky.

Does anyone else remember the flippy-floppies you could make? Turn a 40 Track single sided disc into a double sided 40 track disc - just cut out a peice of plastic on the disc and then turn the disc over to access the second side (*FORM 40).

Oh, someone mentioned Portsmouth ITeC. Yeah I remember the place too :)

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Paris Hilton

Glad it wasn't just me

My friend: "What's Geeky Mark doing?"

Me: "He's studying the circuit diagram for his SAM Coupé, trying to see if he can improve it in any way"

My friend: "Ah, so he wants to see if he can make it subtract as well?"

I seem to remember a lot of the old my-computer's-better-than-yours fights used to revolve around how many colours one's machine could render. The spoilt-brat Amiga boys always wheeled that one out.

Paris because she can't subtract either (er, probably)

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Rob

Excting to be part of it

I was lucky enough to be part of the whole Beeb craze, working for Computer Concepts who did games in the early days (Snake?) and many of the ROM applications like WordWise, InterWord, InterSheet, etc.

Many of the people working in those early days of the Micro computer industry are still active in it today. Anyone remember books by Dave Atherton and Bruce Smith? Well, Dave certainly did well for himself when he sold DABS to BT a couple of years ago! Someone mentioned BEEBUG (Beeb User Group) - one of the founders helps out at the Bletchley computer museum. Watford Electronics went out of business a couple of years ago, but it's amazing how many of those early companies are still around and thriving today.

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Heart

no we didn't...

If we couldn't afford to buy the BBC B, we bought an Acorn Electron...

Just in case we forget - the millions of ARM processors that current direct the Internet, our mobiles and mp3 players are the direct descendants of the Acorn BBC Micro.

Bill Gates Quote: "What's an network?", when shown a collection of BBC Micros networked back in the Eighties.

He had popped over to try to sell Acorn a version of his BASIC. He'd never seen the vastly superior BBC BASIC before...

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Bletchley Park

As Rob says, I founded BEEBUG together with Lee Calcraft in 1982. Amazingly from a single small advertisement in Personal Computer World ( a magazine I contributed to for many years) over 10,000 people joined Beebug in just 2 months. Many had not even got the BBC Micro they ordered yet. Beebug grew to over 30,000 subscribers and lobbied Acorn to improve its service to its customers.

I have since retired and am helping out at the National Museum of Computers (http://www.tnmoc.co.uk) at Bletchley Park. I urge people to visit the museum not only to see working BBC Micros, Apples, ZX80, Amstrads Superbrains etc. but also the amazing Colossus rebuild. Colossus was the world’s first electronic computers, beating the American’s ENIAC by several years.

Sheridan Williams

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Happy

Shame the rest of the team weren't there...

I'm not sure whether the Computer Programme's Paul Kriwaczek is still with us, he would have been a worthy attendee - I first met him at the launch of the ZX80 and subsequently helped out on the first two series and the 2-hour Live show. Absolutely wonderful guy - wrote his own DOS, a spreadsheet programme in 2k and was also both a talented musician and a qualified dentist...

I also dug out for amusement a couple of reports I wrote for Allen and Radcliffe on the contenders for the BBC Micro - Acorn was not the first choice to provide the hardware. Fun days!

Anyone remember Computing Today? ...

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alas poor oric...

the mighty beeb was way above our price range, when i was a kid. in fact we were so feckin' poor, even the spectrum, the commodore, the acorn and the dragon were beyond my folks' means. so i ended up with an 'oric 48k'. named after the computer in 'blake's seven'. beat that for obscurity!

[ just on the off-chance *anyone* else on the planet remembers the oric, you can find some info at http://www.48katmos.freeuk.com/oric1.htm ]

funnily enough, in all my years involved in computing, i've never so much as tapped the keyboard of a BBC micro. i wasn't allowed near the couple we had at school, as they were reserved for the mathematically gifted kids, and not the great unwashed rest of us.

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Aah, dinner times

going up to the school computer room (this was 1982 or so) and playing Elite.

Our school also had a Cambridge Machines computer with a z80 chip and a FLOPPY DISK DRIVE!!!

It was all black, on it's own trolly, we thought it the coolest thing we'd ever seen :-D

We used to play around with it using turtle.

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Happy

Aah, dinner times

going up to the school computer room (this was 1982 or so) and playing Elite.

Our school also had a Cambridge Machines computer with a z80 chip and a FLOPPY DISK DRIVE!!!

It was all black, on it's own trolly, we thought it the coolest thing we'd ever seen :-D

We used to play around with it using turtle.

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Hi Henry

I knew Paul Kriwaczec, visited him in Ladbroke Grove several times to discuss TV programs that never happened. According to Google he's still around and still writing and producing (http://www.kriv.demon.co.uk/)

And how could I ever forget Computnig Toady?

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Dead Vulture

My finest hour...

... was not achieving --- E L I T E --- status (which I managed on no less than three occasions), but hacking Samantha Fox Strip Poker so I could get to the money shot without all that boring gambling business.

Those were the days, and far from being educational, the Beeb was entirely responsible for failing my A-levels in 1984. And again in 1985.

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Paris Hilton

New fangled gizmo

The BBC Micro was one of the later home computers to hit the market.

I cut my teeth doing machine code on a PET, then bought a Tangerine Microtan 65. My friends had other 6502 machines such as Ohio Superboards and UK101s, and the other stream was Z80 machines such as Tandy TRS-80s, Nascom 1 and 2s, and Sharp MZ80Ks.

Later came the crappy ZX-80 and after that anything must have seemed sophisticated, particularly the limo of 6502 machines described in this article.

Paris cos she was just about to be conceived.

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Middle class machine

The BBC was GBP400 or so, compared to a C64 at around the GBP200 mark.

It had a much more sophisticated Basic and the aforementioned 80 character display. But the C64 had hardware sprites and sound to offload the somewhat wimpy CPU and was a whole lot better for games.

Hence little Nigel got a BBC and Kevin in the caancil aaass got a C64.

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I thought it was that Tony Smith from AcornUser

Yes, I love my beeb, still got it and the torch z80/68000 2nd processor with CPM never had the UNIX running as tube card was 2nd hand. Also I seem to remember that mode0/2 used 20k of RAM not 16k &3000-&8000. God that is sad haven't had it switched on for over a decade and I can still remember the memory map and most of the OS addresses.

The best thing about 8bit programming was you had to really think how to do something efficently, now'er days you just bung your code in your PC, no style or beauty. Hence the current inability of programmers to produce bug free code

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but some of the rest of the team were there...

Henry Budgett (that's a name I remember!) was asking about Paul Kriwaczek? He was in fact in attendance at the Science Museum event and presented one of the papers. Although it was impossible for all the Computer Literacy team to be there for various reasons it did include the majority of those associated with the programme series; sadly Steve Lowry wasn't able to attend.

Good to see Dick Pountain contributing - he did some great reviews for Acorn products during those heady days!

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