I spent 1981 travelling round Europe, Scandinavia and the UK by train, on foot and by bicycle, ending up for 6 months in Edinburgh, Scotland. I quickly discovered that Edinburgh is a lot like Wellington: wet, windy and hilly.
At the time I was actually living and teaching in Ashburton. I’d taken a year’s leave from the College to travel.
When I returned to school I found a class set of BBC Micro computers had been installed in what had become a computer lab directly opposite one of the rooms in which I regularly taught.
This was my first actual contact with computers. As an Arts student at university I’d had no reason to engage with computers, and before that, when I was a high school student we heard that the boys’ school down the road had a computer. That was as close as I knowingly came to computers in the old days of the 60s and 70s.
Oh, plus of course, Star Trek.
But here we were in the brave new world of the 80s, and I discovered what had been missing from my life. As an Aquarian I’m drawn to futuristic things with flashing lights and shiny buttons. I quickly made it my business to break the mould of teachers of English and German everywhere and to learn how to use and program the school’s computers.
The BBC NEWS tells us in Looking back at a computing icon:
The BBC Micro was the desirable gadget of its day.
We may look back at it and gasp at the simplicity of it; mock the statistics like 16K of memory (expandable to 32K), or the 2Mhz speed of the processor, but it was this very simplicity that was its charm.
It was easy to program, easy to understand, and so the perfect way to learn.
I look back on it (and its earlier stable-mate the Acorn Atom) fondly because of this simplicity.
You felt that you couldn’t break it by doing something stupid – you simply pressed the BREAK key to reset it and all was fine again merely a second later, which encouraged experimentation.
I couldn’t afford to buy the fancy BBC Micro itself, so I bought instead its smaller sibling the Acorn Electron. I plugged it into my TV for a monitor and saved programs I created or copied from books and magazines onto a cassette tape.
I actually created a few programs, in Basic, to teach German. They weren’t very good, but then I’d never learned computer science, or even gone beyond high school maths — traditionally associated with computers back then.
As a teacher I made a point of taking my classes regularly into the computer lab. And I kept increasing my own skills, until eventually, just before I left teaching in the mid 80s I was teaching some computing classes.
After leaving teaching I worked part time for an adult literacy organisation where I inherited my all-time most hated computer — a Commodore 64. That was a nasty piece of kit.
A few years later the organisation ditched that piece of junk for a Mac Plus, and well, look where that got me. 🙂
In the last 26 years computers have come a long way. That news article was a nice little reminder of what I was doing a quarter of a century ago: learning how to make a machine say Hello to the world:
10 print "Hello world "
20 goto 10