Possibly my oldest source code, Sinclair BASIC from 1983 (and my original ZX Spectrum manual)

As everyone is receiving their shiny new ZX Spectrum Next computers from the successfully funded Kickstarter (that I’m kicking myself now for not backing), I’ve dug up my original copy of my ZX Spectrum BASIC Programming manual from 1983.

The ZX Spectrum was my first home computer, on which I had my first experience of programming. 37 years later, I’m a software developer still coding every day, and still fascinated with software development.

Although flipping through the manual itself is a historical treasure trove, there are a couple of pages which are possibly my first snippets of source code:

I’ve no idea what this was that I was working on (a question and answer game of some kind?), but it’s weird looking back at what was quite possibly some of the first code I wrote, 37 years ago.

Other hand written notes that are interesting, it looks like I was keeping a wanted list of games:

I don’t remember getting a joystick interface until much later, but I was keeping notes on available interfaces at the time. 16GBP for a Kempston joystick interface? Wow!

Plus some notes for a few games, Lords of Midnight, and some other games that I can’t remember playing:

Waiting now for the promised next production run of Nexts, and this time round I definitely plan to get one!

Videos and presentations about running mainframes and supercomputers at home

I’m fascinated by any old computers. The interesting thing about the majority of retro equipment is that you can pick stuff up pretty cheap compared to the original prices when the stuff was originally sold (unless it’s rare). I currently have a very limited collection of an Atari ST 1040 and a Power Mac G4. There’s plenty of other people who collect retro computers and have pretty extensive collections. There’s also a fascinating subset of collectors who via stories that are just as interesting as the hardware itself, have acquired and installed mainframes and supercomputers in their own homes.

One of the first stories I cam across was of 18 year old (at the time) Conor Krukosky who picked up an IBM z890 mainframe for $200 from an online auction and installed it in the basement of his parent’s home. The story of how they moved 1 ton of mainframe hardware into the basement is rather amusing. This is a great presentation by Conor on getting his mainframe up and running. Conor’s hobby and a number of presentations on his experiences setting up his z890 led to a job working for IBM on their current generation z mainframes.

Here’s another fascinating presentation by Camiel Vanderhoeven who acquired a 1984 Convex C1 – a mini supercomputer at it’s time, at $900,000 was originally 1/10 the price of a Cray 1, about 1/3 the performance, and at 3KW power consumption that’s 1/38 the power consumption of the Cray 1. If one unit wasn’t enough, he later came across someone clearing out a number of Convex CPU cabinets and took delivery of several palettes of additional Convex equipment. Another fascinating presentation of getting the hardware up and running.

If you have links to any similar stories, leave me a comment below!

Photos from Vintage Computer Festival West 2018

Aug 4-5th was the Vintage Computer Festival West at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Here’s a few photos of some of the exhibits:

Digital Research – Pacific Grove, California

Gary Kildall and his company Digital Research played a pivotal part in the history of the development of the IBM PC. IBM approached Bill Gates and Paul Allen to provide a number of programming languages for the original IBM PC, and later returned to Microsoft to ask if they could also provide the operating system. Not having anything available at the time, Gates suggested they talk with Gary Kildall at Digital Research, who had developed the CP/M operating system for 8080 based computers at the time.

The history of exactly what happened during the meeting with IBM and Gary’s wife at Digital Research may never be clear, but for whatever reason, Kildall was unavailable to discuss with IBM. When IBM returned to Gates and Allen, they decided to go talk with Rod Brock and Tim Patterson at Seattle Computer Products (SCP) and licensed their QDOS operating system for the 8086 for $10,000 and $15,000 for each company that licensed the product from Microsoft. This became the basis for MS-DOS, The rest, is history.

(If you’re interested, I highly recommend the book Fire in the Valley, a great book which covers the story of the IBM PC in detail, as well as earlier and later history)

The original location of Digital Research is at 801 Lighthouse Ave, in Pacific Grove, California. The building is now a private residence. On a vacation to Pacific Grove earlier this month, I looked up the location where the office was, and as it was only a couple of blocks from where we were staying, so we stopped by:




This IEEE have installed a plaque on the sidewalk outside the building to commemorate the contributions of Gary Kildall, Digital Research and the CP/M operating system: