The Home Computer

Sinclair ZX81

Thomas John Watson, Sr. was president of International Business Machines (IBM) who was responsible for the company’s growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956.

For a man who achieved all this it is perhaps surprising that he made one of the least accurate predictions ever when he said in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” . Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977 must have been reminded of this when he said “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Well they were both wrong and in 1981 Sir Clive Sinclair launched his home computer and almost thirty years later almost every house has one. The Sinclair was small, black with only 1K of memory, and it would have needed more than fifty-thousand of them to run Word or Excel, but the Sinclair changed everything. It didn’t do colour, it didn’t do sound, it couldn’t remember anything and it didn’t even have an off switch. But it brought computers into the home, over a million of them, and created a generation of software developers.

Up until this moment I, like most people, hadn’t given a lot of thought to owning my own computer. There was a mainframe machine at work which clanked and whirred away in a mysterious sort of way in an air-conditioned room at the back of the building but I didn’t get to use it and I didn’t even have a terminal on my desk.

Cory Environmental Contract Manager

Cory Environmental Contract Manager

Anyway, when this thing arrived at W H Smiths for £69.95 (or £49.95 if you built it yourself) I was quickly convinced that it was something I really needed. I visited the store a couple of times and just touched the box and poked a finger at the demonstration machine but this was just a bit of tyre kicking of course because I had no idea why I needed it or what I was going to do with it. On the third visit I made up my mind and bought one.

It came in a pack with an instruction manual and some software, some games including space invaders and chess and some geeky stuff that I never used like ‘make a chip’. It had to be connected to a cassette recorder and the software downloaded whilst making a reassuring screeching noise to confirm that there was actually some data transfer taking place. Eventually the tape would clunk to a stop and if you were lucky the software began to work.

The Complete Spectrum

After a while magazines started to print code for new games and applications and I would spend hours typing them in via the flat plastic keyboard but just one mistake – which might have been a typing error in the magazine – and it didn’t work. Typing this code into the machine made me realise that there wasn’t much to this programming malarkey at all and I quickly learned that you didn’t need to be a computer scientist with a brain as big as Mount Everest to be able to do some BASIC programming for yourself.

I am absolutely certain that I will never ever be able to follow a knitting pattern or flat pack furniture assembly instructions but I discovered that when it came to BASIC programming I was a bit of a natural and I became consumed by the thing.

This product was so successful that just over a year later on 23rd April 1983 a new, bigger and better looking model was launched called the Sinclair Spectrum. This had 4K of RAM so now programming possibilities were almost infinite.

I would spend hours hooked up to a portable TV set creating and designing my own programmes and doing everything that I could to squeeze every last bit out of the memory.

There were two programmes that I was most proud of both of which I submitted to a magazine and had them printed. The first was a game of Connect4 played by two players or against the computer itself; I was proud of that and my friends and family were really impressed. My favourite however was a database programme for recording and storing cricket averages. Even though I say so myself this was a neat little programme that I used for a couple of years to keep the office team records.

Rugby Rural District Council Cricket Team

Rugby Rural District Council Cricket Team

We all owe so much to Sir Clive Sinclair because the introduction of his home computer was one of those moments in history when social change and human development goes through a momentary period of rapid acceleration and without the Sinclair ZX81 and the Spectrum I would not be sitting in front of my Packard Bell writing my blog!

Sinclair Spectrum

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Roy of The Rovers

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UK National Fish and Chips Day

Grimsby Fish and chips

In the UK June 1st  (for this year anyway because it is always on a Friday) is celebrated as National Fish and Chips Day.

Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.

Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar.

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The First Eurovision Song Contest

Four years earlier the Great Smog of 1952 darkened the streets of London and killed approximately four thousand people in the short time of four days and a further eight thousand died from its effects in the following weeks and months.  In 1956 the Clean Air Act introduced smokeless zones in the capital.

Consequently, reduced sulphur dioxide levels made the intense and persistent London smog a thing of the past. It was after this the great clean-up of London began and buildings recovered their original stone façades which, during two centuries, had gradually blackened.

By all accounts the summer of 1956 was truly abysmal: rain, hail, lightning, floods, gales and miserable cold. It was the wettest July in London since records began, and August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain, as barrages of depressions swept the country.  But there was a silver lining to this cloud and September was such an improvement it was warmer than August, a very rare occurrence, and the rest of autumn turned into a glorious Indian summer.

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

European Union Flags

What was needed was something to cheer everyone up.  At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.

The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.

It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.

The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but, rather like trying to get into the Common Market, had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. It hasn’t made the same mistake again and the UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.

Eurovision Greece and Spain

There have been sixty-two contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four.  Twenty-five different countries have won the contest.    The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven.  Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest.  The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.

Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!

For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation.  In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result.

May 15th, Today in The Garden

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The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!

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The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.

Gardening chores completed for the day…

garden shoes

Gunfighters and the Old Wild West

Western Gunfighter - The Shoot Out

Famous gunfighters all had their favourite weapons. Wyatt Earp used a Colt 45 Peacemaker Buntline Special with a twelve inch barrel that might sound a bit unwieldy but he claimed that it never impeded his draw. Bat Masterton on the other hand had the same hand gun but with a sawn off barrel because he thought that twelve inches slowed him down. Other famous gunmen who favoured the Colt 45 were Wild Bill Hickok and Pat Garrett who killed Billy The Kid with a Peacemaker in 1881. The Kid himself preferred the double action lightening colt with sawn off barrels of only three inches and John Wesley Harding and Jesse James used the heavier caliber Colt Army revolver.

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Scrap Book Project – TV Westerns

LoneRangerTontoSilver

One of my favourite westerns was the Lone Ranger and there are a couple of things have always intrigued me about Kemo Sabe:

Firstly, why was he called the Lone Ranger when he was never alone? He was accompanied everywhere by his loyal Indian friend Tonto (real name Jay Silverheels). Perhaps native Americans didn’t count in the 1950’s?

Secondly, the most baffling thing about the Lone Ranger was that he wasn’t the sort of guy you would miss easily in a crowd. He wore a powder blue skintight costume and a broad brimmed white Stetson, wore a black mask to conceal his face, had a deep baritone voice and rode in a black buckled saddle on a magnificent white stallion called Silver.

Tonto’s horse was called Scout by-the-way.

It was surprising therefore that no one could ever recognise him! Now I’d have thought that word would have got out about someone as characteristic as that. Interestingly the only thing that gave him away usually came at the end of the show and when asked who he was by a cerebrally challenged lawman he would pass the inquirer a silver bullet and then the penny would finally drop. “That was the Lone Ranger,” they would announce as the masked stranger and Tonto galloped off at an impossibly high-speed to the sound of Rossini’s William Tell overture.

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