They’re Alive! Can YOU help keep them working?

Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro, with the Beeb emulator on her smartphone (pic TNMOC)
Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro, with the Beeb emulator on her smartphone (pic TNMOC)

Over the past year more than 4,500 students have visited The National Museum of Computing on the museum’s Learning Programme, and many of them used an original 1980s BBC Micro computer to hack a computer games program and perhaps gain their first experience of coding in BASIC. (The others used a BBC Micro emulator on a modern laptop.)

It’s one of the most popular parts of the Learning Programme and high on the list of requested activities for returning groups.

Now, the museum, which is based at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, is appealing for help in keeping their collection of about eighty hard-pressed ‘Beebs’ alive – and for more people to join their BBC refurb team.  It is looking for people familiar with the computer and its peripherals, including disk drives and monitors.

Two factoids demonstrate the endurance of TNMOC’s Beebs 33 years on:

  • 2,250 hours of BBC BASIC coding each year
  • 78,000 key presses per BBC computer annually

The Beeb has certainly stood the test of time. Teachers reminisce about their introduction to computing while the students get a thrill from this uncomplicated and rewarding introduction to computer programming.

Here’s a short video about the Learning Programme to give a flavour of how important these machines are in the context of learning about computer history.

The BBC Micro Cluster at TNMOC goes beyond the Learning Programme too. It’s used by the general public, visiting corporate groups and a few of the micros often escape on tour to external exhibitions and displays.  In addition, some machines form part of static displays.

The Beebs wait patiently for eager hands... (pic TNMOC)
The Beebs wait patiently for eager hands… (pic TNMOC)

The main problem that tends to occur with these otherwise robust Acorn computers is two capacitors in the power supply that dry out and, if not replaced, may explode with a very unpleasant smell. Thankfully, these are relatively easy to replace due to the design of the computer.

The TNMOC team changes the capacitors as part of standard procedures which can also include replacing sticky keys and the odd other component that may fail. They are, after all, getting on a bit, despite being tough as nails!

Keeping the BBC cluster going is down to the skills of a TNMOC volunteer team. So if you would like to apply to join that team, please email volunteering@tnmoc.org and see the Volunteering section on the TNMOC website.

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Competition for teenage girls to mark Ada’s 200th birthday

Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), 1840
Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), 1840

Coming soon – Teenage girls with an interest in computing and technology are being invited to enter a competition to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace.

The competition, run by The National Museum of Computing and the University of Oxford in conjunction with Cs4fn at Queen Mary University, London, asks girls what 21st century technology they would like to tell Ada Lovelace about.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the English daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron.

Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the London Science Museum (pic Bruno Barral/Wikipedia)
Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the London Science Museum (pic Bruno Barral/Wikipedia)

Ada was a brilliant mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on mathematician Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.  Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began an extensive correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects, including his designs for the Engine. They became lifelong friends.

Her notes on the Analytical Engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer.  The computer programming language, Ada, was named in her honour in 1979.

Full details of the competition will be announced at the beginning of July.

Potential entrants and others wishing to receive details, should please email: Ada.lovelace@tnmoc.org with Ada in the subject line.

RCN REVIEW: DivMMC EnJOY! for Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The DivMMC EnJOY! mates well with Retro Computing News editor Stuart Williams' Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3
The DivMMC EnJOY! mates well with Retro Computing News editor Stuart Williams’ Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3

One of the most useful developments in retro computing and retro gaming in recent years has been the introduction of ‘digital hard drives’, created by means of interfacing digital camera memory cards via custom IDE interfaces, to speed up the use and enable the expansion of many aging but still serviceable computers. This is a great convenience – especially for those machines which were never intended to have such drives!

Of course, ‘back in the day’ – the 1980s-90s – for typical home computers, many programs were available only on slow and not always reliable audio tape cassette, and typically the most advanced storage system for such machines as, for example, the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum range, was nothing better than a microdrive tape loop system or a floppy disk with a few hundred kilobytes of capacity at most.

So it was that the most enthusiastic of home computer owners inevitably ended up with a large collection of tape cassettes or floppy disks, and it was only in the late 1980s, when the 16-bit and PC era began to get underway, that the average user could even think of owning, for example, a whopping great ten or twenty megabyte hard drive!

FLASH – A-HAA!

In recent years, then, a great boon to the growing numbers of retro computing enthusiasts, especially gamers, has been the invention of such very clever, and affordable, compact IDE interfaces. They offer the capability of clipping in a CompactFlash or, more often of late, SD card, with a few electronic components and some clever firmware to provide, in effect, a disc operating system or DOS – thus forming an affordable and high capacity solid state drive system with capabilities which would have been a mere pipe dream in the 1980s.

The enormous advantage of such a system is, of course, that it enables the mass storage of the hundreds, thousands, or – in the case of the Sinclair range, tens of thousands – of games and other programs which, having in many cases been abandoned by their past publishers, many of whom are no longer in business, are readily available online as digital files, in various formats, for use with emulators.

DivMMC EnJOY!
Top and bottom views of the DivMMC EnJOY! in its 3D-printed case
Top and bottom views of the DivMMC EnJOY! in its 3D-printed case

One such system was launched for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum range of computers last year by Ben Versteeg of ByteDelight.com in the Netherlands, who is well-known in the world-wide retro computing community.  It is called the DivMMC EnJOY!

Continue reading RCN REVIEW: DivMMC EnJOY! for Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Amiga 30 UK calling!

Amiga 30 UK banner
Amiga 30 UK banner

The main British event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the launch of the legendary Commodore Amiga computer, Amiga 30 UK, is now more accessible than ever to Amiga fans at just £10 for basic admission – and organisers are also now putting a call out to Amiga user groups with another special offer,  a massive group discount!

The event, which is all set to take place at the Peterborough Marriott Hotel on Sunday 2nd August, 2015 and supports BBC Children in Need, has been organised by Amiga enthusiast Steve Crietzman, with the help of David Pleasance, the last Managing Director of Commodore UK, plus graphic artist Paul Kitching (the event’s Multimedia Director), fellow enthusiast and collector Angelo Bod, Rich Spowart (an active demoscener, as is Angelo), and Darren Glenn, webmaster of IntuitionBase.com.

CHARITY DINNER – AND MORE

There will be talks, Amigas and more during the afternoon, but the  focus event at Amiga 30 UK is a three-course VIP Charity Banquet Dinner in the evening.

Overall, the full event and dinner runs from 12 noon to 8.30pm, with options for those wishing to attend during the day only, as well as a special VIP ticket including an additional, exclusive meal on the Saturday night (see below).

Amiga 30 UK Pudsey banner

STARRING…

Amiga 30 UK stars the following Commodore Amiga connected people:

  • R.J. Mical (One of the original legendary architects of the Amiga, who has been a great help to the event)
  • David Pleasance (as mentioned above, who rose through the ranks at Commodore UK, reaching the dizzying heights of MD at the end) who will have a lot to say about his time there and his management buyout attempt!
  • Kelly Sumner (another former Commodore UK MD)
  • Kieron Sumner (Former Commodore UK Commercial Manager)
  • Michael Battilano (Founder and CEO of Cloanto, developers of Personal Paint, producers of the Amiga Forever emulation suite and copyright holders of Amiga OS to v3.1)
  • Jon Hare (Games programmer at Sensible Software with titles including Wizball, Parallax, and Sensible Soccer)
  • Allister Brimble (Well-known musician behind the tunes in Alien Breed, Project X, Superfrog and more from Team 17)
  • Bjørn Lynne (Better known as Dr. Awesome to many, another well-known musician and composer from Team 17)
  • Mevlut Dinç (Founder of Vivid Image, a development firm that went on to produce Hammerfist, First Samurai, Second Samurai and Street Race)
  • Tim Wright (aka  CoLD SToRAGE. A highly talented video game music composer for Psygnosis, including Lemmings, Shadow of the Beast 2 & 3 and many more)
  • Mike Clarke (Another Psygnosis composer, with the tunes for many famous games, including Lemmings 2, Lemmings Paintball, WipEout 3/64, Microcosm, and more)

And there are, apparently, several additional mystery guests lining up…

David Pleasance sends this encouraging message to Amiga fans:

David Pleasance handbill
Click to enlarge
TICKETS AND OPTIONS

There are a number of tickets and special options still available for Amiga fans to snap up, from the basic ticket option at a tenner covering access opening till 6pm, right through the standard Banquet Ticket at £17.50 and on up to the £90 Saturday Night VIP Package offering an exclusive dining out with the Amiga VIPs!

USER GROUP SPECIAL OFFER

A very special ‘United Amigans Package’ in honour of Amiga user groups.  This includes:

10 x Entrance Tickets (for your group members), worth £175.
10 x Copies of Amiga Forever Plus Edition, worth £200.
1 x FREE, exclusive, half-day use of a Conference Room – worth £75.

Total value £450, price to user groups just £175 – a massive saving of 62%.

MORE INFORMATION

Full details of the event, guests, hotel, tickets and booking can be found on the Amiga 30 UK website as well as via organiser Steve Crietzman on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShortedWave

Why not also check it out on Twitter? See https://twitter.com/Amiga30UK

And you can download this handbill in a larger size by clicking on the image:

Amiga 30 UK handbill
Amiga 30 UK handbill

Don’t leave it too late – the clock is ticking!

Retro Computing News thinks this event is a fantastic idea, and wishes Amiga 30 UK every success  – and a great Amiga day!

Recursion show returns as Shakespeare’s school looks to repeat success

King Edward Vi School
King Edward Vi School

A highly historic but equally forward-looking Stratford-upon-Avon school is looking to repeat the success of a computer science fair held there last year as this year’s packed event is just weeks away.

And King Edward Vi School, where William Shakespeare was educated, looks all set to do it again, with a fun-packed digital day out dedicated to Computer Science and Computing in both industry and leisure!

The event, dubbed Recursion 2015, offers a great opportunity for anyone looking for a techno-fix of retro and modern computing, and all things educational, on Saturday 4 July – and amazingly, admission is free for all visitors and exhibitors!

Retro Computing News will be covering the show, so it seems timely to offer our readers a preview here.  We hope to see you there!

RETRO AND COMMUNITY

Why not join the school and exhibitors alike, to celebrate more than four decades of computing history?  With stands and presentations from all the favourites: Spectrum, Commodore, Amiga, Atari, Acorn and many more.

Catch up on the latest community gossip and events, sign up to a local user group or just reminisce by playing your favourite games from the good old days.

AMIGA 30

Amiga A1000
Amiga A1000

There will be special stands, competitions and activities to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Amiga, including the following:

Amiga North Thames
Andy Spencer
Retro Computer Museum
Demonstrations of
X1000, SAM460 running Amiga OS4
Demonstrations of
MorphOS, AROS and AEROS
Nick Severin Nigel Tromans

 

RISC OS SUMMER SHOW

Acorn Archimedes
Acorn Archimedes

The Midlands RiscOS User Group will be holding their annual Summer Show as part of Recursion.

RiscOS Exhibitors include:
The RiscOS Midlands User Group Vince Hudd Softrock
Chris Dewhurst Drag n Drop Magazine Andy Spencer Retro Computer Museum
Tom Williamson ROUGOL

– and don’t forget, RISC OS is a popular Raspberry Pi OS as well as on Acorn and later independent computers!

Continue reading Recursion show returns as Shakespeare’s school looks to repeat success

An ‘appy Apple II anniversary!

Apple II computer on display at the private Musée Bolo from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (pic courtesy Rama, Wikipedia)
Apple II computer on display at the private Musée Bolo from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (pic courtesy Rama, Wikipedia)

On this day in 1977, the now-legendary Apple II computer went on sale for the first time, marking the real beginning of the mighty American corporate entity that climbed from humble beginnings in bedroom and garage to become one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential companies.

The Apple II (its trademark style being apple ][) was (and is, as a practical modern collector’s item) an eight-bit home computer, and was one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputers.   It had a great influence on later computers and on software, with its moulded plastic case and expansions slots, as well as being the computer for which the now-ubiquitous and essential ‘spreadsheet’ program was first developed – the first being Visicalc (released in 1979).

Woz with an Apple 1 Board (pic Steve Wozniak)
Woz with an Apple 1 Board (pic Steve Wozniak)

The Apple II was designed primarily by Steve Wozniak, with the late Steve Jobs overseeing the development of the computer’s case and Rod Holt developing the power supply.

Apple II with Micromodem II (pic courtesy Dale Heatherington, Wikipedia)
Apple II with Micromodem II (pic courtesy Dale Heatherington, Wikipedia)

The computer was first introduced in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Faire by Steve Jobs and was the first consumer product to be sold by Apple Computer (the original Apple I was aimed at serious hobbyists and makers who could build and case their own).  The first Apple II computers went on sale on 10th June, 1977.

Woz and Jobs working on the Apple II in their garage in Mountain View, Claifornia,, 1 January, 1976 (pic Apple Computer)
Woz and Jobs working on the Apple II in their garage in Mountain View, Claifornia,, 1 January, 1976 (pic Apple Computer)

They were initially assembled in Silicon Valley, California, and later in Texas.  Printed circuit boards were manufactured in Ireland and in Singapore.

A MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor running at 1.023 MHz was the heart of the machine.  The computer was able to use two game paddles, and in its most basic form was equipped with 4 kB of RAM.

An audio tape cassette interface for loading programs and storing data was built-in, and the Apple II’s ROMs contained an implementation of the Integer BASIC programming language.

The Apple II’s video controller displayed 24 lines by 40 columns of monochrome, upper-case-only characters on the screen,.  Output was  NTSC composite and could be used with a monochrome (often green screen) monitor. It could also be used with a television set as its display by purchasing an accessory RF modulator.

Apple II advertisement (Apple Computer)
Apple II advertisement (Apple Computer)

The Apple II cost $1,298 USD at launch and with the base 4kB RAM installed.  With a full compliment of 48kB RAM the price went up to a substantial $2,638 USD.

For the first time, Apple branded its first mass-produced consumer computer with the rainbow-striped Apple logo which defined its corporate brand until 1998.

The original Apple II went on to spawn a series of similar but steadily evolving computers (apart from the more advanced IIGS) which continued to be produced until the final model, the IIe, after which production ceased in November 1993, by which time the Apple Macintosh computer range had become the company’s primary product.

Today, the Apple II range is popular as a collector’s item amongst retro computing hobbyists and in museums; computers typically sell for anything from £150-£300 in the UK with a floppy drive or two, in clean working order and depending on expansion, being quite a bit cheaper in the USA where they were always more common.

It is still a good tool for anyone looking for a practical collector’s item which can actually do something useful instead of just playing games. In that way (and in its past popularity in the American education system) it shares similarities with the more specialised British Acorn BBC Micro.

For more information on the history of the Apple II range, check out the Wikipedia entry as a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_II

Cambridge computing history lecture next week

Dr Andrew Herbert (pic Wolfson College)
Dr Andrew Herbert (pic Wolfson College)

The latest talk in the Wolfson @ 50: Fiftieth Anniversary Lecture Series at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, England is set to take place next Wednesday, 17 June 2015.

The distinguished lecturer, Dr Andrew Herbert, Emeritus Fellow of the College, will be speaking in Lee Hall, Wolfson College, on the fascinating topic ’50 years of Computing – A Cambridge Perspective’, between 18:0018:50.

When Wolfson was founded, computers were large, expensive machines only used by a privileged few. In this the College’s 50th anniversary year we are surrounded by computers, most of which are seen as essential, everyday consumer items. Dr Herbert will tell the story of how Cambridge has contributed to the evolution of the computer from the mainframe to the cloud and offer a view on what the next 50 years might hold.

To take his audience back to 1965, Dr Herbert hopes to be able to demonstrate a working Elliott minicomputer from the mid 1960s – the kind of machine on which he first learned to program in 1970. The size of two chest freezers, weighing over 300kg and costing the equivalent of £200,000 at present day prices, the 903 has a tiny fraction of the memory and computing power of a modern Raspberry Pi computer.

Continue reading Cambridge computing history lecture next week

It’s Game On in Manchester this weekend!

Johann Sebastian Joust game at Manchester Day (pic Manchester City Council)
Johann Sebastian Joust game at Manchester Day (pic Manchester City Council)

The wait is almost over as Manchester Day returns this Sunday 14 June, midday – 6pm, for a free family-friendly celebration of all things marvellously Mancunian.

More importantly for gamers, especially indie and board game fans, this year’s Manchester Day theme is Game On! – celebrating the idea that games have helped shape modern Manchester and will have an important impact on the city’s future.

Game On! will see a whole weekend of gaming-themed fun on Saturday as well as Sunday, with video games as well as games of the more traditional variety given imaginative interpretations, as more than 2,500 participants from more than eighty community groups take to the streets for a spectacular parade through the city.

GAMING CONVENTION

In celebration of this year’s Manchester Day theme, a multi-platform gaming convention will come to Manchester’s Town Hall for the first time.

The free two-day gaming event will bring together the whole spectrum of gaming, from traditional table-top and board games to the best of UK and local computer game development.

The Manchester Day Games Room will have interactive fun for all ages, with a family orientated, creative and inclusive approach to video games and gaming.

Plugging in on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 June (10am – 6pm each day), town hall will become the city’s living room for a weekend, giving gamers the chance to test their nerve at some of the newest indie titles and unusual board games.

GAMING INDUSTRY LINKS

Manchester has one of the fastest growing computer game development industries in the UK, with start-up companies finding support in new media hubs such as the Sharp Project in east Manchester.

More than 21,000 people are employed within the software, data and Games / AR industry in the city – with 5% of Greater Manchester’s population working within the digital and creative industries.

More than 300 creative start-up businesses each year are recorded in the city, with the next generation of coders finding the support network they need with coding clubs across the region. Coding is also taught in some primary schools as part of their curriculum.

Top titles such as Mutiny! and Sublevel Zero are hotly tipped as some of the most anticipated independent games on the market – and gamers will have the opportunity to have a go and meet their creators at the Manchester Day Games Room.

Also available to play is the much loved Johann Sebastian Joust game – a screen-less multiplayer game played using motion sensor technology in a battle of wits and a steady hand!

The Manchester Games Room will also showcase a range of low-tech alternatives with the help of the Tabletop Manchester group. Purveyors of extraordinary games, Tabletop are willing gamers away from the standard family favourites, opening a world of exciting board game fun.

Volunteers will be on hand to oversee some of the rarest and interesting board games, which most players won’t even have heard of. This is your chance to broaden your gaming horizon with some knowledgeable and enthusiastic experts!

PIXEL THE ROVING ROBOT

Pixel powers up for Manchester Day! (pic Manchester City Council)
Pixel powers up for Manchester Day! (pic Manchester City Council)

And don’t forget to follow Manchester Day’s official 16-bit mascot, PIXEL – a highly advanced, sentient robotic explorer who has been researching the city in the run up to Manchester Day! Pixel will be tweeting enthusiastically about Manchester’s incredible history. Follow @PixelMcrDay for some fascinating facts about Manchester, as well as the most up-to-date Manchester Day news.

Continue reading It’s Game On in Manchester this weekend!