Monday, April 23, 2007

retrocomputing from the other side of the pond

Here's what I found out on my recent voyage through the wikipedias! Semi-vicarious nostalgia ahoy!

In the early 1980s, the BBC started an initiative called the BBC Computer Literacy Project, a major part of which was the production of the BBC Micro, a machine produced by Acorn Computers, complete with its own line of peripherals including expandable memory and various pluggable co-processors. There was an associated television show, The Computer Programme, which ran in various incarnations through the decade and featured music from Kraftwerk. The computers came with BBC BASIC, a rather more advanced system than the BASICs that were shipping stateside -- it had proper named subroutines and if/then/else, features most users on the MS-DOS side of things wouldn't see until QBASIC.

The mind-blowing part of the project was Telesoftware, whereby computer programs were sent embedded in the broadcast television signal, using Teletext, which is how the closed-captioning data was sent in Britain at the time. Analogue technology like broadcast TV feels so alien these days... but the Beeb was busy using it to send example programs to eager learners at home.

There seems to be a pretty active online community of BBC/Acorn enthusiasts out there, two and a half decades later.

You know how to use the Googles, of course, but here's another, more detailed overview of the BBC/Acorn system.

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