The great day arrives (Part 2)

With a working relic from the 80’s sitting in front of me (completely noiseless – no need for a fan for a processor that runs at 2Mhz.  In fact I’m not sure which chip IS the processor), it was now time to move on to the next bit if kit – the floppy drive.

The floppy drive

Back in those days discs really were floppy, and size was little indicator of capacity.  This particular piece of hardware supported a disc capacity of a couple of hundred kilobytes (I think. I should look it up), but you could usually flip the disc over and use both sides.
Being a mechanical device, this is what I was most concerned about, especially as I have only seen two for sale on ebay the whole time I have been looking.

If I couldn’t get this working then I’d be back to an emulator like everyone else.

Let them eat dust

It is a bit of a beast.  I have no idea who built it, but it was built to last, with a solid metal frame and even the plastic bits aren’t going to drop off in a hurry.

Mechanical stuff

Shown here in the open position, you can see the circular bits that clamp over the centre of the disc when the system is closed and to the right is the read/write head.  This is only a single-side drive so the disc has to be flipped over to read the other side.

Close up of the head

The magic that makes it all happen.  Trust me on the fact I cleaned this all up before letting any discs near it.

With everything cleaned up, screwed back and then plugged in (with the computer turned off of course – this ain’t USB) , it was time to see if it could still deliver the goods.

It lives even more!

Well-remembered muscle movements prompted me to press Shift-Break to boot off the disc.  With a heap of noise that to most people would suggest that the floppy disc was being mangled to bits but to me was exactly how I remember it, up came the Stryker’s Run: Codename Droid game …
… in black and white.  Damn, that is a bit disappointing.

Still, there had to be a solution.

Colour settings

Not sure what any of this means and this option is not documented in the manual of my TV.  It was originally set to ‘M’ and changing it to ‘B/G’ restored the glorious colours.  I think a couple of those other options worked as well.  Don’t you love how easy it is to turn a frown upside down sometimes?

Codename Droid

With the colour sorted and the strains of the Airwolf theme pumping out of the speaker it was time to sit back and admire my work. It was a strange feeling looking at something that at the time was so familiar yet now feels alien and out of place.  I need a smaller screen …

Without wanting to dawdle on anything I had a quick bash at Codename Droid, jumping around, shooting, ducking and climbing ropes.  It was like being back at school (in the old days when kids did stuff that may, heaven forbid, result in them getting the occasional cut or bruise).  Maybe without the shooting.  That only came later … and mostly in America.  Sorry.

Moving on …

XOR

One of my favourite games – great music and game play and a dash of humour.  It had a bit of a different slant in game play in that there was no time limit and instead you had a limited number of moves.  A great puzzler, and a freeware version is available for modern machines: http://xor.ovine.net/

So that pretty much wrapped up an exciting and fruitful night.

I’m impressed that something that has been sitting around that long still just needs to be plugged in and is as good as the day it was purchased.  Maybe when people talk about our ‘consumerist” society it is really the act of ‘buying’ that drives people, not the ‘having’.  Too quickly people dismiss something merely because it is old (i.e. six months), and feel compelled to buy something new to replace it.  How often can these people say they got real value out of it while they owned it anyway?  How many people buy something that is good quality like a DVD player, and the hook it up to TV using a composite cable?  I’m busier than anyone I know, but still find a few minutes to read the manual.

It is such as short term view on so many fronts.  Even setting aside the environmental factors of all the waste, people are too quick to say they can’t afford ‘the best’, yet are happy to throw money away because they need it now, and buy crap instead of waiting a bit longer and buying something that not only lasts longer but gives them more satisfaction for every minute that they do own it.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted.  If you have read this far then you are probably not a dumb-arse, blind consumer, but instead have an appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into products like this.  Sure, it is old, but seeing it as a product of the time you can admire the elegance. and as programmer myself I’m blown away at what was achieved with so little resources and such primitive (or more accurately: non-existent) tools.

I’m also a bit of a hi-fi buff, and while my budget doesn’t stretch into the stratosphere like some (or rather, I balance my desire for the perfect sound with the desire to eat good food, enjoy fine wine, smoke the rare cigar and drive a car that doesn’t belch smoke or leave pools of oil everywhere), I have a rather fine and balanced system which may be the topic of another post one day…

But for next time, I’d like to proudly display the rest of my BBC collection that escaped being thrown out.

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The great day arrives (Part 1)

Let’s just get stuck into it shall we?

A few days ago I had the house to myself and decided that the time was right to haul everything out and see if it still worked.

I was a little nervous.  What if it sparked and smoked and then fizzed out never to beep again?  Or worse, what if it did absolutely nothing, thus robbing me of at least the opportunity to say goodbye before it departed to 8-bit heaven?

Then what would I write about?  Still, at least I could grab a few pictures, and if worse came to worst I could photoshop a screen shot in and pretend that it was all good for a little while.

To that end, here is the beast unearthed for the first time in almost 20 years.

Straight out of the cellar

Here it is in its somewhat yellow, spotty glory. It is a bit dusty and one of the front LEDs is misaligned, but otherwise looks like the trusty workhorse I remember.

Like many plastic items of any reasonable age it has started to go a bit yellow, although there is a suspicious white patch in the middle which I believe was the disc drive.  The computer was setup most of the time in front of the TV so that makes sense.

I was hoping that there was something I could do about that, but a quick search around suggested, as always, that prevention was the best cure.  For more information, the following is an excellent analysis of the problem of yellowing of our beloved retro machines.

So, moving on I figured a spit and polish would at least remove the fly crap, but hopefully the inside remained pristine.  Two screws from the back and 2 from the front-bottom and flipping off the lid revealed the following:

First view with top cover removed

A bit dusty inside, but I’ve seen worse (any modern computer with a fan that sits on the floor springs to mind).  The wires sneaking out the back were a dodgy pass through for the speaker so I could hook it up to an external speaker for more audio goodness.

View of keyboard

A better view of the keyboard.  Back in those days each key was individually switched mechanically, at least on quality keyboards like this.  Cheaper machines had membranes or rubber keyboards that made an electrical circuit but didn’t have proper on/off switches.  They sucked for typing on.  I think modern keyboards use membrane-like technology, but with effort put into giving that real ‘switch’ feeling so you feel like you are making a connection.

Close up of internals

Pretty standard really.  Just above the keyboard ribbon cable you can see the text ‘Issue 7’.  This may have been the last revision of the BBC Model B main board.  I’m not sure, but it does seem the most common.

The underside

The beeb was famous for its array of expansion options, including the ability to add a second processor (and not just another 6502 – a Z80 was an option amongst others).  This is available via the ‘Tube’ connector.  On the far right, partially obscured, is a black connector for auxiliary power, in this case I use it to power the disc drive.

The backside

More options on the back, including three different video output options (no HDMI unfortunately), an analogue port for things like joysticks, an obligatory tape input and the famous Acorn Econet system.  Not fitted to this machine, Econet was Acorn’s low-cost networking system which proved popular in schools. I’m not sure what is involved in adding this option but it was pretty sophisticated for the time and included filesharing capabilities via a fileserver.

Cleaned up and ready to roll

Cleaned up and ready to roll

Spit and polish has been liberally applied and it is looking a lot more respectable.  I’ll get in between those keys a bit better once I know the bugger is still running.

I unsoldered my dodgy speaker cable and fixed it back to the original configuration.  After realigning the LED at the front and cleaning up the function key strip (the clear plastic above the keyboard allowed you to slip in dedicated function key templates above the red function keys that explained what they did depending on the program you were using)

Only one way to found out if it works.  Luckily that weekend a friend of ours had her garage sale and I picked up an antenna two-into-one connector in anticipation of this moment, so after wrestling to get to the back of the TV managed to hook it up neatly.

Turning it on produced that satisfying two-tone beep that everyone remembers, and I knew that we were in with a chance, but first I had to tune the TV.  Switching to the long forgotten analogue tuner I got the TV to scan everything in, and lo and behold, there is was!

It lives!

The old and new come crashing together as I fire it up hooked up to the Sony 52 inch Bravia.  Who could have imagined this back in the 80s?
Exactly as it says, it has 32 kilobytes of RAM, and is fitted with a 1770 Disc Filing System and of course the famous inbuilt BBC BASIC.
It appears all the keys work, include the real ‘pound’ symbol.  The fact that the BBC has a key that produces this symbol is yet another reason why emulators aren’t as good as the real thing 🙂

Ok, so I get a prompt, but could I make it do anything useful, or was my collection of games and half-finished software no more use than an old America Online coaster CD?

Find out next time!

Reality Check

So a few weeks ago I went to my parents full of anticipation of the retro goodness that awaited me.  After the usual pleasantries I look in the corner of the lounge where the computer had sat alone, forlorn and unloved for all these years under a pile of papers and other boxes of unknowns.  After a bit of scrounging I accepted the fact it was no longer there, and upon asking was informed it had been packed away under the house.

A shudder went through me as under the house was most definitely the last place things were ever seen, as I swear that the spiders under the floor fed not on flys and their own children, but paper, plastic and choice bits of metal.  I clung to the assertion that it had only been put away recently, so was hopeful it hadn’t succumbed to rust or was being used as a nursery for god knows what.  Anyone remember the old show ‘The Trapdoor‘?  Kind of like that.  Oddly I was a garage sale the other day and they had a cassette tape of that show, which actually turned out to be a game for the Commodore 64.

Anyway, I grabbed the torch and the key for the lock.  Need to replace that lock one day as it looks about as secure as one you would find in a Christmas cracker and is purely there only to deter people with no arms or legs.

I only had to go in a metre or so on my hands and knees before finding a worrying small box labelled ‘BBC micro’.  I quickly hauled it out and brought it back into the house.

I started rummaging through it and discovered the following:

  • Like most things at my parents it was dusty as hell, which is worrying when one of the major components is a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive that is older that Generation Y (but luckily much more robust)
  • In order to save space my dad threw out all the plastic jewel cases for the software, leaving the folded inlay wrapped around each floppy disc which were then piled together in a plastic bag in a vain attempt to keep the dust in, I mean out
  • There was not a single book – including the user guide.  All I found were a couple of smaller manuals for the DFS (Disc Filing System)

It was at this point that a horrible thought, which was already brewing at the back of mind, came fully to the fore: I had thrown out all the 20 or so books that I owned about 8 years ago.  Until this moment I wasn’t sure if I had thrown them out but clearly they weren’t here.  Obviously I didn’t rate that as the smartest thing I ever did, especially when weeks later I realised the price that some of them were going for on Ebay and Amazon second-hand.

I was already pretty sure I had thrown out all of magazines which included about 4 unbroken years of Micro User and a heap of others.  However I have just had a thought that I may have in fact given them away to someone – I must chase them up as he is probably lining a litter tray with one as I speak.

Nevertheless I had a box containing my original BBC Micro Model B, complete with a singled-side disc drive and about 10 original games or compilations and a couple of boxes of backups and software I written myself or, if the title ‘Typed Out Games vol. 1 and 2’ is anything to go by, had been typed out from magazines.

I triumphantly loaded the car and took them home where they have sat in the entranceway of the house until just the other day…

It all starts here … or rather there (Part 3)

Before we get to the juicy stuff, I’ll fill in the few years between borrowing computer time at school, being the proud owner of a second-hand BBC Model B (with a disk drive!  Sadly I cannot claim extra geek credit by bitching (in a misty-eyed nostalgic way) about what it was like waiting for tapes to load) and then owning my first PC (which was also rather fun).

Money was always tight at home, but I compromised by buying the other things that I could afford.  I read the magazines and imagined all the cool stuff I could get one day.  The multi-page ads for Watford Electronics are something I’m sure many people from that time would remember.  Pages and pages of software and upgrades.  I remember being at little upset when in later years they started to sell PCs as well, and advertise the fact in the BBC magazines.  Sacrilege!  I searched for them recently to see if they were still going.  Seems not.

So over the years I collected boxes of magazines and books and also began to buy some software.  There were one or two shops locally that sold some Acorn related stuff for a while, but mainly it had to be shipped from England, and with everything done by snail mail it was a slow and relatively expensive process.  Still, this only made the anticipation more prolonged and exciting.

Before long I had a small collection of games, and when my dad came home one day with a computer tucked under his arm it may have been the high-point of my younger years.

Now I could finally go beyond playing games – I could write my own!  I already had pages of code scraps and heaps of ideas for games.  I had graph pads full of designs for levels and game characters.  Some games were original, others were my attempts to convert the arcade games that I loved to the Beeb.  I’ll try and scan some in soon.

I also designed a GUI ‘desktop’ and a fascination with 3D graphics lead me to try and write my own ray-tracer.  Don’t try that at home kids!  My maths was pretty good back then but it was mind numbing stuff, and it took hours to run on a computer running at about 1Mhz (BBCs were widely recognised as one of the fastest home computers too).  After waiting hours you usually ended up with bugger-all due to some tiny miscalculation that meant your image was rendered off the screen 😦

I managed to make good progress on a drawing application too that even allowed you to select a section of the image and then deform it arbitrarily by moving the four corners (with the cursor keys unfortunately – you could get a mouse but it wasn’t cheap).

All in all it was great fun, and there were plenty of worse things I could have been doing.  Programming a computer was still seen as a bit weird and not many people got the fact that these programs had to come from ‘somewhere’, and it was actually a decent career path.  The fact that I naturally do not tan, despite the fact that I spend a lot of time outside, didn’t help disavow people’s opinion that I spent ‘too much time indoors and should go out and play sport’.

Ten years later, I wonder how many parents rushed out and bought computers in the hope that their kids would grow up to become internet millionaires…

While I loved the BBC (and wasn’t at all jealous of more well-off people who had Amigas and Macs (while the Mac GUI was cool, the fact it was black and white was amusing to my eyes)), there was something happening in Acorn land in the late 80’s that was impossible to ignore.

Recognising that the BBC was aging, the clever folks at Acorn had leapt past the 16 bit word straight into 32 bits and released a new machine based on a new processor of their own design.  Thus the Archimedes was born, and boy, I don’t think anything before or since has inspired so much techno-lust in so many people.  Watching full motion video in a window on the desktop on a computer in the late 80’s was a breathtaking achievement.

Still with local prices over $1,000, it was as distant a dream as any, but this didn’t stop me building a small collection of software and magazines for it either.  It was kind of inevitable anyway as the magazines started to reduce their coverage of the BBC and move to the new shining star.  My school at the time had an A3000 I think, so I still got to play around.

One think I did miss from the Amiga and Atari ST were the Soundtracker modules.  To my delight people quickly wrote compatible players for the ‘Archie’ and I collected these modules as well.  I definitely have a soft spot for the demoscene back in the Amiga days, even though my exposure was limited, and the electronic soundtracks accompanying these demos I still love today.  Watch out, I’ll be posting my favourite picks some time soon.

I think my only regret is that I didn’t hook up with some other people and collaborate on some projects together.  I didn’t really ever finish anything, and if I came up against a technical issue it was hard to get past it with no-one to ask questions of.

So the 80’s came to a close and early on in the 90’s I took delivery of my first PC so I could continue some more serious programming (Borland TurboPascal was the start and then Borland C++).

The BBC and associated paraphernalia was packed away and except maybe once, has never been seen again.

Until now …

What is it all about, really, when you come down to it?

Before I go any further, I need to answer what would possess someone to write a blog about old computers (I prefer the term Retro of course)?  Two things happened recently that sparked this mad endevour.

While driving back from Sydney after New Years we stopped in Albury on the New South Wales border and I found myself in a newsagent where I saw something I never seen anywhere else before: a copy of Retro Gamer magazine, specifically Retro Gamer Collection – Issue 03.  I picked it up with mild interest thinking it was ‘kinda cool’, but was soon sucked in when I saw it had not only a full retrospective on the BBC Micro, including a two page spread of glorious screenshots of fondly remembered games, but there was a full article on the game ‘Elite‘ by David Braben and Ian Bell.

With a long drive still ahead with my wife at the wheel, I had no choice but to buy it …

I won’t get started on Elite right now, but for anyone who saw that game at the time, it was like how it must have felt watching the first television – you knew the world was never going to be the same again.  It was sad to note in the article that the two authors had a disagreement over some aspect of their collaboration and they have not spoken to each other since.

It was a great magazine and I read it cover to cover, squirming with delight in the nostalgic ooze.  Can’t believe I found it (and the current normal monthly issue of the same mag) in Albury.  Maybe there is a secret retro gaming community out there in the parched lands of the Australian countryside.  Maybe the Playstation hasn’t reached them yet so technically it isn’t actually retro, and they are trying to find out where they can buy this great new game called ‘Manic Miner‘?  Who knows …

So that piqued my interest again (which honestly, had never gone away, but I never had time to really act upon it), and I planned to dig out the old BBC Micro from my parents as soon as I got home, where it had lain dormant since about the time I get my first Windows PC in 1991.  Actually, it wasn’t really a Windows PC as even though it had Windows 3.0 or 3.1 on it, I never bothered using it because all the programs we had ran under DOS so there was no real point, and with only 1Mb of RAM to play with, was a waste of space.  I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether that still holds true today …

My wife and I were starting to look for a house around this time.  We had been renting for ages in a place we really loved, but with a baby on the way and a rent hike coming up we thought we might start looking around.

It didn’t take too long before we came across something that ticked all the boxes, or at least the sensible ones.  The ‘leafy beachside suburb’ and ‘walking distance to absolutely everything we could possibly need’ boxes were still empty, but we all have to make sacrifices.

It did have an unexpected bonus – a rather nice garage in the backyard, with a roller door and also a normal door next to it.  And this wasn’t a shitty garage full of spiders and years of grease and exhaust grime.  Instead it had carpet and a pool table.  Exactly the sort of place I could setup a sweet music system using the leftovers from my frequent hifi upgrades, along with a bar fridge, an old couch and the other bits and pieces a bloke needs to have a home away from home.

And I could still roll the beemer in to play around with it.  I’m thinking of upgrading the speakers to this one day.  If it ever happens I write something about it.

And, I soon twigged that I could setup the Loewe widescreen TV currently taking up space in the spare bedroom and hook up the Beeb to it – and leave it setup ready to use any time!  How cool would that be?

An offer was soon made and accepted.  Finance is being a bitch at the moment though, but we have been granted an extension so fingers crossed …

While we played the waiting game, we made the trip to my parents one sunny Sunday afternoon to see if any of my memories were still intact.

It all starts here … or rather there (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

I can’t comment on the state of computers in schools across Australia back in the mid-80s but in the three schools I went to in Tasmania they all had Acorn’s BBC Micro.

If that interests you not in the slightest then you may want to go elsewhere, as that name is going to come up a hell of a lot!

For whatever reason, I was absolutely hooked on it.  I’d spend pretty much every lunchtime playing games on it, typing in programs and just generally playing around.  By this time a lot more kids had computers in the home and there was the usual sort of rivalry you’d expect.

Except back then it wasn’t as simple as Mac versus Windows versus Linux.  Out of ten people there could be five or more different brands and models of computer – each with completely different operating systems, form factors, expansion options and capabilities.  There wasn’t one operating system to rule them all – most companies wrote their own in-house.

I think that was what made it for me the ‘golden age’ of home computing – there were so many companies trying so many different things, and everything was so accessible:  the easy things were easy and the average user never encountered the hard things unless they wanted to try programming things themselves.  Most of the time you stuck in a disk or cartridge, switched on the machine and the program would just run.

And because you had probably never seen anything like it before that instant, it was always fascinating and new.

Best of all, these early computers came with the tools, as primitive as they may have been, to write your own software.  People took a masochistic delight in spending hours typing in programs that would do anything from draw shapes on the screen to playing a hangman game.  The fact you could break out of the confines of what the manufacturers had provided was like nothing else back then.

For those people who persisted in this, it was pretty exciting watching something you typed in, or even wrote, yourself come to life.

Virtually every home computer back then (or ‘micro-computer’ as they were referred to to differentiate them from their main-frame and mini-computer (don’t ask) cousins) had a version of a computer language called BASIC.  Some history can be found here, but the BBC Micro had an especially capable version called BBC BASIC.  This had new-fangled features such as procedures and functions which could be called by name – therefore reducing the need for the dreaded ‘goto’ command.  I think this more than anything meant that despite Dijkstra’s assertion that:

It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.

I managed to escape unscathed and became the disciplined and skilled programmer I am today.  The ability to mix assembler and BASIC together in the same code-base was also something that scarred me for life (yes, it is possible to be scarred positively and negatively – just look at the Karate Kid – he could have so flipped out and ended up pushing a shopping trolley around wearing a pair of pyjamas and offering to wax your bonsai, but instead, through a serious series of unorthodox exercises became a kick-arse martial artist.  Learning assembler on a machine with 32 kilobytes of RAM (up to half of which was used by video memory depending on the number of colours and resolution you wanted) teaches you a thing or two about resource usage which you never forget).

For anyone who doesn’t know what assembler is, imagine trying to explain a complex concept to someone without using the words ‘so’, ‘like’, ‘instead’, ‘or’ or ‘screw it, I give up’.  What you have left is assembler.  But it runs fast once ‘compiled’ in to machine code (is that too grand a word? ‘Converts’ probably explains better the close relationship between the two).  Machine code is the only thing your computer actually understands, despite that fact that you seemingly accomplish most tasks these days by clicking your mouse or with your shiny new Wii, waving something around pretending to think you are burning calories.

So I spent much of my time typing stuff in, reading books and magazines (back then most home computers had quite a large community of magazines, books, and bulletin boards) and writing my own programs.

As a digression, a lot of those materials had a strong ‘DIY’ angle: many of the early adopters were happy to get their hands dirty and type in a program or two (I’ve  just realised I’ve said the word ‘typed’ a few times – no Web back then to download stuff from.  If you were lucky you may have been able to dial-up to a local bulletin board and download programs at blistering speeds of bytes per second.  The idea of having cover discs on magazines didn’t come until later, and putting a 5 1/4 inch disc on a cover was a risky proposition, especially when half your readers still probably used cassettes!).
This was lost for many years – most modern magazines have endless reviews of anti-virus programs and better ways of organising your collection of MP3 ‘backups’ and not much on interacting with the computer itself.   I think the increasing number of Linux magazines is turning that around – there are a bewildering array of programming languages easily installable for a Linux system and the command line mentality lends itself to whipping up a quick program to do something to suit your needs rather than wait for someone to do it for you.

As a further digression, I remember getting my first copy of Linux (Red Hat 4.2 I think) and installing it on a dual-boot Windows PC.  That was pretty exciting – the idea that I could run my own webserver (Apache httpd) and relational database (MySQL) on my humble PC.  Powerful stuff back in 1997.

So back to the BBC (or the ‘beeb’ as it was affectionately known.  Or disparagingly known by a close friend at the time, but what does he know – he had a Tandy Color Computer III otherwise known as a ‘CoCo’).

The unfortunate thing from my perspective  was that my parents didn’t have much money and we couldn’t actually afford to buy me a computer of my own for many years.  While I collected books and also a monthly magazine called ‘The Micro User‘ (and less frequently ‘Acorn User‘ and ‘A&B Computing‘), all of which somehow made their way down to Tasmania, I had to sponge off the education system to actually use this knowledge.

Back then it was considered slightly odd that someone would want to spend that much time using a computer and various tactics were used to address this.  I believe at one point I had to spend 15 minutes playing outside before I was allowed to spend the rest of the lunch hour socialising with friends around the computer and performing tasks that improved my reflexes and spatial ability.  Ok, so I played a lot of games.  I remember spending hours with a school mate playing Killer Gorilla, a BBC clone of Donkey Kong.  I think we managed to finish it even, which is always a great feeling.

I’m tired now … I’ve just gotten back from the Symphony under the Stars with the fabulous Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and I’m ready for bed.  I’ll get into specifics next time and introduce you to the  ‘(re)unboxing‘ of my toy (yes, I did finally get hold of my own computer).  It’s been under my parent’s house for a while so if I can’t boot it up I’ll have to amuse you with something completely different.

It all starts here … or rather there (Part 1)

I’m not totally sure how I got into computers.

It’s not like I grew up with them in the early 80s – they were relatively rare back then and living on a farm in Queensland, Australia meant they were rarer still.

I reckon I was probably attuned to them because I was a big Doctor Who fan, and things like Star Wars were causing a big buzz.  All that futuristic stuff was pretty exciting for an 8 year old, or whatever the hell I was back then.  I also used to enjoy playing video games whenever we went into the nearby town: that had something called an ‘amusement arcade’.

That was probably it … games.  That’s what gets most kids excited.

I think the first home computer I ever encountered was at the next door neighbours – the kids there got a Sinclair Spectrum.  I didn’t really get to play with it – I think the parents were so tired of all the toys getting broken that it pretty much never came out of the box.

Around that time the local country school got its first computer (probably at the time they got their first photocopier – before that they made copies by transferring ink from a bed of some gel-like substance that held the inked out original copy in reverse.  Good thing it wasn’t a large school or they would have employed someone full-time just to do that.  Anyone know what that process was called?).

Being the most technically minded kid in the school, I was given special access to use it.  This high-tech wonder was a Commodore Vic 20.

It was soon after this that we left Queensland (it was ‘too hot’ according to my father who grew up in the Atacama desert), and moved to Australia’s southern-most capital – Hobart, in the island state of Tasmania.

Continue to Part 2 …