Category Archives: Computer history

Elliott 405 cheat sheet

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In among Big Doug’s small but treasured trove of documents relating to the GPO’s National-Elliott 405 computers is a small yet fascinating document that seems to be part cheat sheet and part marketing material. The six-page, fold-out booklet is handily sized to fit into a shirt pocket, along with your pocket protector and 6H pencil. Most of the National-Elliott 405… Read more »

Elliott 405 – a fascinating glimpse into vintage computing

History isn’t just about dates and the events that get memorialised in statues. Far more fascinating is the personal and the quotidian. A thumbprint left in an ordinary ceramic bowl is a more direct connection to the lived experiences of people the past than any number of crowns and sceptres. And I think there’s an aspect of even recent history… Read more »

The original web

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Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the world wide web. And if you want to get a feel for how far the web has come, try experiencing what it was like in those heady days of December 1990. Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim) built the original web while at The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) as a… Read more »

Memory update

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A while back I wrote (here and here) about how I’d bought some old Russian memory. It’s a single memory plane from a Saratov-2 (Саратов-2), a Soviet-era Russian clone of the PDP-8 built in the 1960s. Well, I’ve finally given it the home it deserves. I’ve mounted the memory inside a deep frame and put a ribbon of LEDs around the… Read more »

The price of knowledge and the power of the librarian

Googling something has become a reflex action for many of us. We expect Google (or Bing or … what’s that other one called?) to provide an answer. And we expect that answer to be free. It wasn’t always thus, as I was reminded when trawling through an archive of old articles. Occasionally, alongside the article itself, I’ve found some of… Read more »

From the archives: WordStar 5 review

This piece was written for Personal Computer World – I presume in 1989 when WordStar 5 appeared. Note the bit about needing 512K of memory – you have been warned! I also discovered from some text I’d originally included at the beginning that my old Telecom Gold (aka BT Gold) address was 10074:MIK031. This was, of course, in the days when ordinary… Read more »

From the archives: Bulletin Board Systems for pilots

Another old article dragged from the archives, and again with an aviation theme. This one was written for Pilot magazine in the UK and was published, I would guess, in 1991 (I got my Private Pilot’s Licence in 1990). I still occasionally pine for the old days of the Bulletin Board System (BBS) and CIX. And yes, I’m aware that there… Read more »

From the archives: Computers in Air Traffic Control

This is another piece from my archives. This was written for Personal Computer World magazine, published in the UK by VNU. It followed on from the one on fly-by-wire, so I’m going to guess this piece appeared in 1991. By that time I was doing a lot of work for IBM, especially its RS/6000 and AIX division which was engaged on… Read more »

From the archives: Fly by wire

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Recently I discovered an archive of past work, including a handful of tech features. I guess these come under the heading of ‘vintage’ now, so I figured I’d share them here. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I wrote for a number of computer magazines. I’ve kept very few of the articles, alas, so this is a rare survivor…. Read more »

Getting lost the easy way: early GPS

GPS seems an almost mundane technology these days. It’s in your smartphone and possibly your camera. You can buy cheap GPS receivers to work with your Arduino or Raspberry Pi so that robot you never seem to have time to build never gets lost (or is that just me?). But yes, I am old enough to remember when the Global… Read more »

Russian memory and British big iron

The Russian core memory I bought on eBay has arrived and I have to say it’s a thing of beauty. In fact, it’s such a fascinating object that the More Significant Other was moved to admit that she’d like it to live, suitably framed, in the living room. There is something strangely hand-crafted about this piece of modern technology. I… Read more »

Retro to the core

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There are some things that are hard to get your head around unless you can actually see them. Being a computer history fan I’ve often read of core memory but never quite got to grips with how it works. So one day recently I just thought, ‘the hell with it – I’ll go on eBay and buy some’. Which I… Read more »

Sending an email in 1984

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A friend posted this video on Facebook and my immediate reaction was, “I had that modem!”. On closer inspection it seems I was wrong. The modem in the video is the WS1000 whereas I had the Miracle Technology WS2000, capable of a scorching 1200 baud (half-duplex), as well as 600 and 300 baud full duplex and 1200/75 — the last being… Read more »