Category Archives: Computing history

64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits
Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits

When did the world wide web become history? As the iconic ‘Dancing Baby’ turns 21, internet users, budding digital historians and the simply curious are offered a trip down www. memory. lane in London from 30th March to 21st April 2017.

64 Bits: An exhibition of the Web’s lost past, a new interactive showcase of 64 seminal moments in the web’s history, is taking place at The Press Centre, Here East, in iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Billions of people use the web on a daily basis – but do you know who invented the search engine? Would you be interested in browsing the world’s first ever website? Have you ever heard of Susan Kare?

64 Bits is a fun, interactive recreation of the early years of the web. As part of a wider digital archaeology project, it seeks to plug gaps in the historical record by telling the stories of the forgotten artist engineers that shaped today’s digital culture.

Take Alan Emtage, Barbadian-born inventor of the search engine. Billions of people use the technology he created on a daily basis but very few know his name. The exhibition includes a working version of his first search engine, Archie.

Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture
Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture

Equally significant, is the work of designer Susan Kare. Her icons and fonts have been seen by billions of people, yet few know her name. The exhibition incorporates a selection of the key milestones in her career, including the original Macintosh icons, the MacPaint interface and the Microsoft Solitaire playing cards.

Legends of the lost

These are not isolated cases. Many pioneering examples of digital creativity from our recent digital past can no longer be seen. Files have been lost or stored on redundant media. People have passed away. Companies have gone out of business. Stories have been lost. 64 Bits explores these forgotten roots and offers alternate histories.

The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history
The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history

A key part of the exhibition is an open-door digital media archiving service, supported by the British Library, where artists and designers can bring in obsolete media to migrate inaccessible historical artwork to a modern format. Where appropriate, the excavated work will be exhibited as part of the exhibition.

Eboy pixel art
Eboy pixel art

Curator Jim Boulton says, “The early lessons of the web are in real danger of being lost forever. With Here East’s focus on digital innovation and the Olympic Park’s legacy remit, then Here East is the perfect venue for 64 Bits.”

Lucy Bawden, Programme Manager at Here East says, “The exhibition will be the starting point for a programme of related workshops and talks at Here East around digital art and the connection of technology and creativity.” Continue reading 64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Commodore Story documentary heads for stardom

The Blu-rayA new techno-nostalgia film production is headed for Kickstarter stardom – and is set to become an essential addition to the collections of fans of classic Commodore computers, games and software, including as it does, many of the charismatic creators and movers and shakers who feature in the dramatic tale of so much of that seminal computer industry and hobby community history.

The Commodore Story is a cram packed two hour documentary that will take us through American home and business computer company Commodore’s evolution from the 1970s to the 1990s, and from the PET, Vic20 and Commodore 64 to the Amiga and beyond, including many game makers and composers from the 80s and early 90s.

Well-supported already, the soon-to-be-classic crowd-funded flick has now broken its own latest £32,500 goal target and is rapidly heading for the next level – funding of £35,000 – meaning that it will hopefully be published as a double Blu-ray package alongside The Chiptune Story – Creating retro music 8-bits and 16-bits at a time.

Major Commodore collaboration
Steven Fletcher, Director - recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary
Steven Fletcher, Director – recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary

Produced by Wavem Studios, a feature and short film company based in London and Essex, The Commodore Story is helmed by Director Steven Fletcher, a passionate advocate for Commodore, and boasts an impressive number of 30+ collaborators, interviewees and contributors, including Commodore and Amiga Legends Leonard Tramiel, Dave Haynie, Michael Tomczyk, Greg Berlin, Randell Jesup, Hedley Davis, Ronald Nicholson and David John Pleasance with more to come as well as games programmers, 8-bit music composers, and Commodore book and magazine authors.

Pages of history
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem's DeVoid feature film are also options
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem’s DeVoid feature film are also options

Not only a documentary, the film, which will have special features and has a range of options for pledges from £10 (digital download) up to £1,850 (offering Executive Producer status, no less!) will also be published alongside a complementary full colour book. The book has its own separate starter pledge (ebook for a tenner) to upward of £25 for a printed book and ebook package.  There are also other pledge possibilities including limited-edition t-shirts, additional films, and London premiere and aftershow party tickets!

4K wahey!

4K

An earlier stretch goal now means that the production will be in 4K ultra HD definition video resolution, meaning that the highest quality will be maintained, with downloads in full resolution, and you might actually find yourself with something good to show on that expensive 4K telly you bought at last!

Come on, make your pledge

There’s just 15 days to go on Kickstarter with £33,402
pledged of the original £17,500 goal.  Why not join our editor, former Amiga User International writer Stuart Williams, and the other 855 backers in supporting the project now?

To make your own pledge and help push that top end stretch goal over £35,000, or to find out more information, beat a path to this exciting retro computing project’s Kickstarter page and get in on the act with the latest major contribution to recording the amazing boom and bust story of one of the world’s top, and it has to be said life-changing, computer companies ever.

Follow this link:  The Commodore Story

 

Images courtesy Wavem Studios

TNMOC: Technology powering 50 years of Milton Keynes

Virtual fun at TNMOC (Pic TNMOC)
Virtual fun at TNMOC (Pic TNMOC)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Milton Keynes as a new town, The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park is hosting a special weekend on 21-22 January 2017 highlighting the past, present and future of computing.

For the first eight years of Milton Keynes’ existence, the existence of the code-breaking Colossus computer, was still secret. On this special anniversary weekend, visitors to The National Museum of Computing can see the world-famous rebuild of Colossus together with the array of technology that has followed in its wake and powered the development of Milton Keynes. There will also be glimpses of technologies to come.

Fun and fascination at TNMOC

During the weekend of 21-22 January 2017, visitors can:

  • Find out about MK and smart cities and come up with your own ideas on what tech and apps we will be using in 50 years’ time in MK.
  • Come face-to-face with a rebuild of world’s first electronic computer, Colossus, and discover its key role in shortening the Second World War.
  • Use Gamar, an augmented reality app, to explore the museum via a brand new museum trail.
  • Relive wartime Buckinghamshire and join the Home Guard as they patrol the museum and provide opportunities to try on a uniform plus more.
  • Discover the wonder of wearable technologies like Oculus Rift to discover new possibilities in virtual worlds.
  • See the world’s oldest working computer, the WITCH, and watch in amazement as it flickers and clicks to perform calculations at 1951 computer speed.
  • Become a Robot Brain Surgeon with our friends at Tech Camp. To book a place please visit http://www.techcamp.org.uk
  • Code and play games on our 1980’s BBC micros.
Ten-year and anniversary offer

Also, to celebrate the Milton Keynes anniversary year and ten years of the existence of The National Museum of Computing, MK families get half-price entry! It is only £10 (normal price £20) for a family of up to 2 adults and three children (under 16). Just bring proof of residence within an MK postcode.

For more information, see the TNMOC website: http://www.tnmoc.org/

Images courtesy TNMOC

REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – a resounding success!

View from the stage at REVIVAL Solstice 2016 - click to enlarge
View from the stage at REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – click to enlarge

Veteran retro gaming/arcade show organisers Revival Retro Events returned to take the retro scene by storm once again last weekend, after a break from major events since 2014.

Breaking new ground with a brand-new venue for the show, the event took place for the first time in the spacious Stadium Suite at the Banks’s Stadium (previously known as Bescot Stadium) – the home of Walsall Football Club in the West Midlands!

After a smaller comeback event last November in Wolverhampton, this year REVIVAL executed a mighty return to the scene with the aptly titled REVIVAL Solstice 2016 on 30-31 July.

Loads of fun and excitement on cab or computer!
Loads of fun and excitement on cab or computer!

Bringing back all the attractions of their previous fun-packed summer exhibitions, the latest show included:

  • Over 100 playable retro consoles and computers
  • Over 50 classic video arcade machines and pinball machines
  • On-stage competitions run by the Retro Lords, and prizes (including a Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3 donated by sponsors Retro Computing News!)
  • A selection of traders offering various retro collectables
  • The return of the guest talks panels and new gamer’s theatre
  • Reasonably priced, fully licensed bar and gamer’s snack bar
  • serving hot and cold food
Pinball wizards at REVIVAL Solstice 2016
Pinball wizards at REVIVAL Solstice 2016

The venue had the advantage of not being far from the M6 and right on the doorstep of Bescot Stadium Railway Station, although it’s fair to say the location caused a little confusion with some drivers finding it not so easy to locate as they thought.

One of the Retro Lords running a contest on stage
One of the Retro Lords running a contest on stage

But with hundreds attending on each day of the weekend, it’s clear that retro fans had more than enough to encourage them to beat a path to Bescot for more REVIVAL retro fun!

One of the several wheelers and dealers at REVIVAL
One of the several wheelers and dealers at REVIVAL

And our editor and publisher Stuart Williams, who spent the Saturday there in retro heaven, couldn’t agree more – and he came on the bus from Bloxwich!

Continue reading REVIVAL Solstice 2016 – a resounding success!

RCN Review: Electronic Dreams by Tom Lean

Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean
Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean

As someone who was first introduced to ‘real’ computers, as opposed to sinister science-fictional devices, during the British home computing revolution of the 1980s-90s, when I was in my twenties, I have always been fascinated by both the technical and the social history of computers, as well as the people who designed, created, built and marketed them. After all, in many cases, we owe our modern, computer-saturated, hyper-integrated world to them.

So, I was particularly intrigued to hear of a new book which focuses on a number of these aspects, since while there have been many excellent coffee-table type ‘nostalgia’ books about video/computer games and gaming published in the last few years, there’s not so much out there about the more serious side of things.

Do androids dream of electric nostalgia?

The new book I’m referring to is Electronic Dreams by Dr Tom Lean, which was issued by mainstream publishers Bloomsbury in February, and a very interesting volume it is too, particularly bearing in mind its rather Kubrickian subtitle ‘How 1980s Britain learned to love the computer’.

The publishers are clearly targeting both the well-established popular science market and the boom in ‘cyber nostalgia’ and ‘retro computing’ which has already seen the rise and rise of the retro gaming book in recent years, but in a very different way which also makes the work of interest to historians, amateur or professional, of social and technological history.

Surprisingly in this sector of the market, the author is in fact an historian of science, currently based at the British Library, where he is working on Oral History of British Science, a major project concerned with the collecting and archiving of life-story interviews with 200 figures from the recent history of science and technology.

From the author’s mouth
Tom Lean (pic courtesy of the author)
Tom Lean (pic courtesy of the author)

Retro Computing News spoke to Tom Lean, who told us a little about himself and how he came to write the book, which offers an insight into the thinking that lies behind the words and pictures:

“I was born in Port Talbot, South Wales, best known (or perhaps not) as the home of the Dragon 32 home computer. I only actually saw a Dragon 32 once as a child, but both my parents were teachers so every summer they’d borrow a BBC Micro. I guess that, and the Commodore 64 they eventually got me, was my introduction to home computing, but by then it was the later 1980s and I think I probably missed microcomputing’s glory days at the start of the decade. How I became a historian of home computing is a long story, but the short version is: I sort of fell into doing a masters on the history of computing after studying history and computing as a joint degree at the university of Kent, because it seemed like a fairly logical choice at the time – what else are you going to with a degree in history and computing?

“After that, I was hooked, and ended up doing a PhD on the subject at university in Manchester, home also to the world’s first stored program computer, the 1948 ‘Manchester Baby‘ and Ocean Software, who probably wrote about half the 8-bit games I played as a child. So by background I’m an historian of science and technology, and I’m really into understanding the various ways that society interacts with technology and how people use it in ways that designers often didn’t foresee. I’ve been interested by the history of home computing for about a decade. I’m just old enough to have some nostalgia for it, but there’s something about technologies at that messy, formative stage when people haven’t quite figured out what they are for or what they should be like that fascinates me.”

On the subject of Electronic Dreams itself, Tom went on to say:

“The book was an idea I was playing around with for sometime. My day job is an oral historian of science and technology at National Life Stories at the British Library. Interviewing old scientists and engineers about their lives and work for Voices of Science (http://www.bl.uk/voices-of-science) is fascinating but it’s kept me pretty busy over the last few years. It was only a couple of years ago when Electronic Dreams was picked up for the splendid new popular science series from Bloomsbury-Sigma that I got the chance to write the book at last.”

So, this was going to be an historically-relevant work, not just a childhood nostalgia-fest for the modern age, and all the more interesting for it.  No page after page of glossy gaming graphics in this chunky tome; the illustrations, which are gathered together in a few pages in the centre of the book are a small but thoughtfully-chosen selection of pictures of historic, mostly British, home computers, with an early mainframe, a couple of magazine covers, a few period adverts and, inevitably, a handful of classic games, including two of my favourites, 3D Monster Maze on the Sinclair ZX81 and Elite on the BBC Micro, both classic achievements of their time and platforms.

The bulk of the book, which is of a slightly more academic style but very readable and by no means dry and dusty, seeks to interest the reader, and succeeds admirably, by presenting the fascinating story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their science fiction-derived worries about ‘electronic brains’ and ‘Big Brother’ and embraced the newly-affordable wonder technology of the 1980s.  Little did we know, back then, that those somewhat paranoid concepts of the 1950s-80s would come back to bite us in this closely-networked 21st century, but that is another story…

Continue reading RCN Review: Electronic Dreams by Tom Lean

Shacked up with EDSAC in Reading

James Barr in the 'Edshack' (pic courtesy TNMOC)
James Barr in the ‘Edshack’ (pic courtesy TNMOC)

A home workshop in Reading, England is today playing a vital role in the reconstruction of EDSAC, the Cambridge University machine that sixty-five years ago led the world’s computing revolution and today is being reconstructed and assembled at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) on Bletchley Park, where the process can be watched by museum visitors.

The Reading workshop, affectionately named Edshack, belongs to James Barr, who not only has the rare skills required to help in the reconstruction of EDSAC, but also has a computing pedigree that can be traced directly to the machine that first ran before he was even born.

EDSAC, full name the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, was built in Cambridge, England in the years following the Second World War and was the first high-speed electronic computer ever to go into service at a University. Because of its remarkable speed, it enabled new approaches to scientific research, which were previously impossible, and was used in at least two Nobel-Prize winning research breakthroughs.

Intricate wiring of the control chassis (pic courtesy TNMOC)
Intricate wiring of the control chassis (pic courtesy TNMOC)

In Barr’s workshop, key components of EDSAC’s central control system are being reconstructed. He is one of the very few people in the country who could attempt such a task. It requires a knowledge of thermionic valves that were used for wartime RADAR and preceded the invention of transistors and silicon chips. They were the only devices at that time fast enough for high-speed computing technology. He also has had to research and re-discover the ways that 1940’s valve circuits were made to perform digital functions.

Continue reading Shacked up with EDSAC in Reading

Happy 200th birthday Ada!

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

Today is a day which should not only inspire women to an interest in computing, but a day which we should all celebrate as having a direct link to the modern world which surrounds us in 2015 – the 200th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Ada Lovelace.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the English daughter of a brief marriage between the famous 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)
Programming pioneer

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 now 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. Based on the language PASCAL, ADA is a general-purpose language designed to be readable and easily maintained.

For more information, see: http://findingada.com/book/ada-lovelace-victorian-computing-visionary/

Happy Birthday, Ada!

REVIVAL set to return after Winter Warmer success

Just part of the REVIVAL Winter Warmer (pic by Johnnathan Taylor)
Just part of the REVIVAL Winter Warmer (pic by Johnnathan Taylor)

Popular British retro gaming and computing event REVIVAL looks set to return in the New Year with all guns blazing, according to chief organiser Craig Turner – not surprising, judging by positive comments coming from the crowds attending their latest show.

After the success of last weekend’s smaller, but still beautifully marked, REVIVAL Winter Warmer event held at a leisure centre near Wolverhampton, the volunteer-supported exhibition and gaming extravaganza is heading onward and upward into 2016!

The popular combination of vast numbers of arcade machines, pinball games and legendary home consoles and computers made available for use at events by the organisers, exhibitors and supporters, combined with retro traders, plus talks and star guests at their bigger events, means REVIVAL has never had much difficulty getting gamers and geeks through the doors.

At ground level, gaming galore! (pic by Lee Mather)
At ground level, gaming galore! (pic by Lee Mather)

Putting on a major event of this kind on a small budget is never a simple affair, however, and it’s a lot of hard work as well as fun, as Craig Turner, of Turnarcades fame, said recently:

“After a tough first few events that went beyond our expectations and became a little harder to handle, future plans for REVIVAL were uncertain last year. After a major change early this year though and thanks to our dedicated team of die-hard enthusiasts, REVIVAL Winter Warmer has been solidly organised and was well-prepared well in advance this time. It was never certain though that we would again be in a position to return to full form. The primary decider was always you, the gamers, that buy the tickets and share in the hobby with us…

“After crunching the figures, I am pleased to announce that despite initial reservations about moving venue and trying a mid-sized event, ticket sales have been strong since day one and I can officially confirm that REVIVAL WILL RETURN IN 2016 not only with a full-scale event in Wolverhampton, but plans are underway for two additional events with a different focus that will be going outside the Midlands to reach gamers around the country!”

REVIVAL logo

REVIVAL has always been an event by gamers, for gamers and the organisers have been keen to stay true to their retro-gaming roots, which has aided in their success, as Retro Computing News found out at last year’s massive REVIVAL event at Wolverhampton’s Dunstall Park racecourse.

Last weekend bodes well
The REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers
The REVIVAL Winter Warmer team, organisers and volunteers

Mr Turner, speaking after the well-supported Winter Warmer weekend, said:

“Our first show in over a year REVIVAL Winter Warmer 2015 is now over and based on feedback so far, was an overwhelming success! With a sellout crowd on Saturday and an unusually large Sunday crowd too, we doubled our expected turnout with a head count just short of 700 people over the weekend. A huge thanks to all who attended; visitors, staff and guests who all contributed to an unrivalled atmosphere that our events have always been renowned for!

“Such an event wouldn’t be possible without a well-balanced team of true retro gaming enthusiasts that make up our organisers, floor staff, setup volunteers, exhibit contributors and entertainment. I would like to say a huge thanks to all of my family and crew who helped make Winter Warmer what it was and committed their efforts to bring every attendee a great time – it couldn’t be done without them. Allow me to introduce our main team [pictured above, Ed.] for last weekend, and thanks to the miracle of powerful high-resolution image editing, been able to seamlessly blend in one of our main team members who was unfortunately on a logistical errand while this shot was taken.

“Be sure to give props to these guys if you see them again or have any stories to share from the event!”

Well, we can’t say fairer than that, and despite the illness that sadly kept our editor Stuart Williams away from this year‘s Winter Warmer, Retro Computing News is already looking forward to covering next year’s REVIVAL event in person, so watch this space!

For more information and to keep up with these events, check out REVIVAL’s official website and the Facebook page.

 

All images courtesy REVIVAL and individual photographers.