According to popular computing magazines way back in the late 70’s early 80’s the new computer age would revolutionise life as we know it, they imagined paperless offices, robot arms serving us cups of coffee on a whim and even considered using some of the most basic computers to control home lighting and electric grids the only downside was that most enthusiasts into computers at this stage were either beardy types that looked like they had stepped straight out of the Open University programs shown at night and more often used to pointing out oscilloscope patterns or they were smart kids with rich parents, all of which could be found at ‘computer clubs’.
Basically these involved enthusiasts gathering together to Ooh and Aha over Video Genies, Acorn Atoms and that particularly fetching Nascom that the beardy chap in the corner has built into a walnut travelling case and played Baa Baa Black Sheep using three tone deaf notes. Computer program’s were exchanged on cassette tape like government secrets and discussions about the potential 32k Ram expansion or should I invest in those new costly Apple chaps (no change there then!) or wait for the all new BBC Micro kept us all enthralled. Riveting stuff I’m sure you would agree…
See, look how cool it all looks, computers the size of small cars, printers that required ear muffs to sit next to as they thumped out their text and a storage system that could hold close to a quarter of a typical MP3 file today. Not exactly the future quite yet but they were already doing useful things especially with the new fangled spreadsheets, word processing and database software already appearing. Although our lady model here looks sat rather awkwardly and certainly a candidate for potential back and neck problems, tut, tut.
To show how enthusiastic people really were according to the blurb ‘…shuttle Columbia was about to lose all contact with Earth: for 21 agonising minutes, touch-down would be touch-and-go. All the world held its breath, the £4.5 Billion project relied on a £165 hand-held calculator…”. You would be gutted to read this wouldn’t you? Ok then, thanks for that, I have just wasted the entire US deficit, spent twenty years of my life making sure that we could do it and you put it all down to a calculator. Gee, you will be telling me next that the £1 million I spent creating a pen that could write in space could have been done by just using a pencil. Damn.
Now here’s a bold claim, let’s use a small black and white £50 computer with 1K of Ram in old money, for those of you that are unaware of the limitations it basically has a memory that can hold 1024 characters, less than this blog entry and certainly no photos, to run a power station! Wow, your telling me that the ZX-81, which had a tendency to overheating, crashing on a whim (not as often as Vista!) and with the addition of a 16k expansion pack was also prone to ‘wobble’ so if anyone as much as broke wind within six feet the accompanying gust would wobble the expansion pack and your last three hours of typing on it plastic keyboard would disappear in a cloud of pixels, could do this?
Nah, not really, but you have got to think big haven’t you? The article allows you to build at home a handy I/O port and send pulses (On and Off basically) to control stuff, not exactly ground breaking but it paved the way for all the Serial, parallel, USB and a multitude of other ports that do similar things. The great thing is a follow up article had enthusiasts if I remember controlling motorised Lego, cat flaps and the usual robot arm fumbling with cups and milk bottles. They did have a tendency to go wrong though and often the cat would be left meowing outside avoiding a whacking whist the flap flapped uncontrollably and robot arms unable to judge distance would frequently smash a milk bottle in your face, not to mention when they crashed you got coffee instead. On the roof.
Still, we all dreamed of this hip office, an explosion of hair, spanking new technology that nobody knew how to use and lots and lots of brown…
And what did we get? The Internet. It’s all cats and tubes if you ask me, and another thing when am I going to get a personal hover board? I used to set fire to Kindle, eat an Apple and a smart phone was one that was shiny red and made an attractive trilling sound. Tablets I ate, Lol was what I used to do in bed on a Sunday and Twitter was what the birds did to wake me up.
What the hell happened? I remember when you could by a computer for less than £50 and it would control everything from power stations to NORAD, once I wired it up to your auntie Mable and marched her around the house robot style until the power cord came out and she crashed pulling down the curtains and smashing through the coffee table. The vicar wasn’t impressed. Neither was the postman as Bonzo became the first Robodog on the street, it took me three days to work out how to stop the automatic humping mechanism, the postman was a physical wreck but I kept his spirits up during the sleepless nighttime sessions whist he was pummelled senseless with tea and biscuits.
Ahh, the good old days…