back to article BBC veterans require skilled hands to massage their innards

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) has made an appeal for volunteers who could help them keep their BBC Micro computers – which the museum uses to give visiting young'uns a taste of hacking history – in good health. TNMOC is looking for people familiar with the BBC Micro computer and its peripherals, as it is seemingly …

  1. Bob Wheeler
    Happy

    Memories

    I had a BBC Master, complete with 80186 co-pro which allowed me to run MS DOS programs faster than the IBM PC and IBM XT machines I used at work! Greast bit of kit.

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sorry too busy!

      Sorry too busy, but here is a plug for my company. Nice!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry too busy!

        Cut the guy some slack please. He's already presenting the Radio 2 Breakfast show, and soon he'll be leading BBC flagship 'Top Gear' inevitably to the breakers yard. He's not gonna have time to fix computers. Honestly....

      2. Chris Evans

        Re: Sorry too busy!

        Sorry if I breached netiquette. I don't think I've promoted my business here before.

        I thought being so obscure it might be of interest!

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          Re: Sorry too busy!

          'sOK. Those of us that actually know anything about the BBC/RO scene already know about cje and the rest aren't likely to be suddenly feel compelled to buy up all your stock.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    I've got a box of spare clicks somewhere...

    You know, the heavy, clunky type of click that they don't put in modern keyboards. They were for IBM M series, but I think they should fit in a BBC as well.

  4. Jim 59

    Any competent electronics engineer could give a BBC a once over. Publicity stunt by TNMOC.

  5. Norm DePlume

    Fixing beebs

    I once did some voluntary work at a special school fixing beebs. I cannibalised 15 non-functional machines to get 14 working. If that figure sounds high, it's because mostly the faults were that some ingenious s*d had got inside many of them and reversed connectors to the board. Tough old things worked fine when put back the right way.

    Sadly I live too far away to help this time.

  6. Dave 126 Silver badge

    How much would it cost to make a short production run of compatible machines? I'm think that having the components visible in a transparent case could only add to the educational value.

    Another advantage is that once he PCB layout, BoM and whatnot is sorted, replacement machines could be built as needed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or an emulator?

      How much would it cost to make a short production run of compatible machines? I'm think that having the components visible in a transparent case could only add to the educational value.

      As nice as the idea is for your average geek, I'm not sure that would be practical (engineering - debugging, production - maintenance: it's quite a costly exercise).

      If I read the article correctly, the main reason these machines are used is because they offer a number of features that make learning how to program easy. My question is: why can this not be replicated with emulators? That way, you can have a more generic bit of hardware underneath (which is low cost through volume), yet retain the benefits of the BBC environment.

      Or did I miss something?

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Parts

      I imagine the problem with this would be availability of parts. I believe the 6502 is still available in some form or another, but I'm not sure about some of the other bits & bobs...it would be reasonable to expect that some of them will have been obsoleted long before now and hard to obtain in any real quanitity

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Parts

        "I imagine the problem with this would be availability of parts."

        I suspect that some hardware students could put together the essentials out of gate arrays. The 6502 was designed to be as cheap as possible and yet have indexed addressing, as I recall. No memory management except the crude eprom switching.

        The whole thing would probably fit nicely on a USB stick. But that just invites the question, so why not just implement an emulator than runs on a USB ARM board?

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Parts

          "The 6502 was designed to be as cheap as possible..."

          Fanboy flames wars circa early 1980s: "6809 RULES, 6502 DROOLS!"

          More-or-less pre-Internet, so BBSs or the Newsgroups.

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Parts

        So many of them were made, you don't need to rebuild replacement hardware, you just cannibalise existing spare machines.

    3. Stuart Castle

      I doubt it's just a case of bung a few chips on a PCB. For a start, I suspect many of the parts used by the BBC are no longer produced. As such, you would need to find fabrication plants both willing and able to product those parts, which would be expensive, especially for a short run, even assuming they could do it.

      Then there is the assembly of the computer itself and testing. That is not going to be cheap.

      And I haven't even mentioned securing the rights to reproduce all these parts, and the computer itself, from the various manufacturers (assuming they still exist), which will also not be cheap.

      I suspect that if someone thought it feasible to do this, they already would have.

  7. johnaaronrose

    They are discourteous

    I offered to provide them with GUI software for running Enigma & Lorenz Encryption & Decryption. I emailed them twice & phoned twice (leaving a message for the appropriate person). I received no response.

  8. msknight Silver badge

    TBH, I don't understand what's going on here.

    I still operate three BBC B micros myself and there is a reasonable community at the 8 Bit Acorn Webring - http://8bs.com/cgi-bin/webring/webring.cgi?5&next - except you might have to manually manipulate the number as I think site 3 is dead.

    They can be maintained by anyone reasonably competent with a soldering iron ... with the exception of the most commonly failing component, the power supply, as there are three capacitors which have a tendency to blow. Personally, however, I'm a bit shy around mains components so I pay someone else to do it. I do the rest myself, though, with reference to the StarDot people, who have forgotten more about the BBC Micro than I'll ever know.

    The 6502 processors can't readily be replaced as the modern versions have clocks which I have been told are way too fast to work in the BBC B, so when they're gone .. they're gone.

    Emulators for the BBC are actually very good, so programming is more easily taught on them, as they have far superior cut and paste options than actually using a physical BBC Micro ... you can trust me on that!

    So I don't really understand why they are calling for volunteers under the circumstances cited here, and also on the BBC News pages. On the face of it, this does sound like a publicity stunt. I have to admit to scratching my head about this volunteer call.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Happy

      Exploding PSUs

      Easiest solution is to gut the original then fit a modern one inside it - there's plenty of room - then get rid of the silly clips and solder decent weight wires to the tags - amazing how many obscure faults it instantly cures :)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Emulators for the BBC are actually very good"

      Although I understand where you are coming from, I think the fact they are a museum is the reason they want to maintain working, original computers rather than emulators. After all, a Colossus emulator would have been a lot cheaper than rebuilding one! :-)

    3. Jim 59

      ...there is a reasonable community at the 8 Bit Acorn Webring...

      Blimey msknight, the word "Webring" gives a blast of nostalgia even more potent than the BBC Micro.

      Yes, I think the story is actually designed to remind chaps of a certain age that there are 80's home computers aplenty at Bletchley, and wouldn't it be nice to take the family there in the upcoming school holidays. If they really wanted Beeb experience, they could just contact one of the thriving online BBC Micro communities, rather then sending a press release to The Register.

  9. AMBxx Silver badge
    Unhappy

    20 years ago

    I took mine to the dump. I still hang my head in shame when I think about it.

    1. Jim 59

      Re: 20 years ago

      I took mine to the dump.

      Which dump?

  10. msknight Silver badge

    There are people doing some stunning stuff with BBC Micros. I bought a reconditioned unit which has a kit installed that can read CF cards (internal interface that treats the card like the Winchester disk) and also FAT formatted USB sticks ... among other tricks! - I haven't got the kind of engineering skills to pull that kind of trick off myself, though.

    I managed to get a 6502 Co Pro, so I'm able to play the executive version of Elite :-) ... still get my arse shot off by Thargoids hijacking me out of warp, though. (I'm sure there's a rude joke in there somewhere...)

    *sigh* those were the days.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      "There are people doing some stunning stuff with BBC Micros. I bought a reconditioned unit which has a kit installed that can read CF cards (internal interface that treats the card like the Winchester disk) and also FAT formatted USB sticks ... among other tricks!"

      USB port... on a BBC :)

      That's a RetroClinic DataCentre - quite probably the same kit you are talking about

      1. msknight Silver badge

        @VinceH - Yes, my main BBC B is a RetroClinic completely refurbish machine complete with his data centre and also a chip he was messing around with at the time for battery backed up RAM, with the battery built in as part of the chip.

        The cost of one of his is roughly equivalent to buying one off fleabay and then buying the spares to put it right, repair the keyboard, etc. and Retroclinic ships some veeery mice manuals as well :-)

        I'm just not in to pimping on El Reg, not even myself. There's a reason I skipped from BBC Ring 3 to 5 in the URL :-D

        But I tell you this ... Acornsoft PacMan on utter lunatic idiot mode (Very fast on the first screen) is the kind of game you want to play with your friends when you've had a few tinnies too many!

        RetroClinic also messes around with arcade boards as well. They know their stuff. If I had the money to burn and the space, I'd have an original, sit down Star Wars cabinet at home .... oh, the dreams...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Domesday Project

    Surely I can't be the only person to have been involved with the Domesday Project ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project for those who haven't heard of it

  12. Jim 59

    "The 8-bit BBC, launched on 1 December 1981, epitomised the British home computer boom of the early 1980s."

    Oh come off it. Well, from a 2015 view point, maybe. You see a BBC Micro, and it all comes flooding back. However the thing was mind-meltingly expensive. Now we are all middle aged with reasonable jobs, the terrifying price tag seems less important. But in 1981, the scene was epitomised by more affordable kit: Sinclair, Oric, Dragon, Commodore, Tatung, Superbrain, TI and the rest of them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Although I saw it all happening I never really felt the urge to join in for a few years, until the Psion Organiser II arrived. There was no turning back after that :).

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Now we are all middle aged with reasonable jobs, the terrifying price tag seems less important."

      Not if you take inflation into account. When you were a spotty teen drooling over a BBC Micro, mum and dad had all the expenses which you incurred and a BBC micro was the price of a decent second hand car. In perspective, that's probably 2-3 grand or more today so not all that less important :-)

    3. twentygototen

      Exactly. The importance of price is something that's often overlooked by retro computing articles. Back then a difference of one or two hundred pounds could represent a year of saving.

      While the BBC B was much more capable (and reliable) than the ZX Spectrum, the ingenuity that Sinclair put into keeping the price as low as possible was very impressive. The Spectrum was the peoples' computer, the Beeb was a Jaguar in comparison.

      1. msknight Silver badge

        Actually, Acorn did run a racing car at one point I believe.

        While Sinclair had ... um ... yes ... better not go there.

  13. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    "using an original 1980s BBC computer to hack a computer games program...

    "... perhaps gaining their first experience of coding in the process"

    That was exactly how I started to learn 6502 Assembler and Machine Code 30 years ago!

    A9 03 - Load Accumulator with 03 (Try changing 03 to FF or 7F for 255 or 127 lives)

    Or:

    E9 01 - Subtract 1 from Accumulator (Try changing the 01 to 00 for infinite lives)

    :-)

  14. HWwiz

    The Electron.

    I wonder how many of the home version are left running ?.

    The Acorn Electron.

    I had one, so I had a Beeb at home. They were actually pretty good, and less than half the size.

    1. swampdog

      Re: The Electron.

      I've still got one hiding somewhere. No PSU & no monitor though but assuming it never got wet over the years I'd expect it to still work.

  15. Hubert Thrunge Jr.

    Skills

    The problem is that fixing computer skills these days are limited to changing the motherboard, power supply or drive(s).

    This requires component level fault diagnosis and re-work skills - with the ability to use age old test equipment, and a ..... soldering iron.

    Scary stuff.

    Somewhere around in my collection of "scrap" I have an Acorn box that ran CP/M on a 6502, and with the swap of a CPU board and SRAM board, it'd run FLEX. All on 100mm Eurocards.

    When I move home (in the next few months) I'm going to gather all of that old stuff together and get it all working again. What for, I don't know, brush on classical well worn ancient techniques I guess!

    Sadly, I don't have time to work on these old relics, I've fixed BEEB's before, eeek 30 years ago.. and somewhere still have an external floppy drive case with at least one 5.25" drive in it.... (among the Commodore PET external drives that seem to have appeared!)

  16. Rob Daglish

    I'd help...

    ...if I weren't at the other end of the country...

    I well remember repairing vanloads of Model Bs when I worked at the County Council IT Workshop (firstly on work experience, then as an apprentice, then as an employee) during the mid to late 90s. Our main problem was key switches that failed, usually on either the right-shift or break key, causing schools to send them in as "they won't load anything", something fixed in 10 minutes with a soldering iron.

    Happy days.

    And we always had a TV on in the corner of the workshop at this time of year for the cricket or Wimbledon.

  17. Spoonsinger

    Fixing Beebs?

    I always thought when at school, with five people playing planetoid at the same time - each having a different key to press(*) - that the Beeb was fairly indestructible.

    (*) They weren't particularly progressive games in terms of getting to the end, but were fun. However it was more productive than the use it was being put too - which was nothing, because it was just dumped on the school with actually no point. (a then remote farming land school didn't really require a computer at that time).

  18. Clive Harris

    Ohio Superboard software manuals

    I never had a BBC, but I had an Ohio Superboard (a rival 6502 machine of that era). I recently came across a set of software manuals for it ("The First Book of OSI" and "The Second Book of OSI"), when I was clearing out some junk. Are they any use to anyone? Sadly, the Superboard itself is long lost.

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