Tag: Commodore PET

The power of a single word!

Happy Birthday Dan! (And that word is ‘fortnight’!)

Back in September, 2013 I wrote a post called Closing my windows. It explained how I first met Dan Gomez; now some thirty-six years ago. Let me republish the relevant section:

Earlier on I wrote about launching Wordcraft, the word-processing software for personal computers. That was in early 1979 and later that year I was invited to present Wordcraft at an international gathering of Commodore dealers held in Boston, Mass.

During my presentation, I used the word ‘fortnight’ unaware that Americans don’t use this common English word.  Immediately, someone about 10 rows back in the audience called out, “Hey, Handover! What’s a fortnight?

It released the presenter’s tension in me and I really hammed up my response in saying, “Don’t be so silly, everybody knows the word fortnight!” Seem to remember asking the audience at large who else didn’t know the word.  Of course, most raised their arms!

Now on a bit of a roll, I deliberately started using as many bizarre and archaic English words that came to me.  Afterwards, the owner of the voice came up to me and introduced himself.  He was Dan Gomez, a Californian based in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles and also involved in developing software for the Commodore.

Dan became my US West Coast distributor for Wordcraft and was very successful. When Dataview was sold, Dan and I continued to see each other regularly and I count him now as one of my dear friends.  Through knowing Dan I got to know Dan’s sister Suzann and her husband Don.  It was Su that invited me to spend Christmas 2007 with her and Don at their home in San Carlos, Mexico.  Jean also lived in San Carlos and was close friends with Su. Together they had spent many years rescuing feral dogs from the streets of San Carlos and finding new homes for them.

Thus it was that I met Jean.  Discovering that Jean and I were born 23 miles apart in London!

So from ‘Hey, what’s a fortnight’ to living as happily as I have ever been in the rural countryside of Oregon.  Funny old world!

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
Dan Gomez – Best Man, and Diane Jackson – Bridesmaid when Jean and I were married;  November 20th 2010.

It is Dan’s birthday today. One of those big birthday milestones in life. (And it would be wrong for me to openly state his age today but just let me say that Dan would be seeing a sixties birthday again!)

So to my very dear and special friend …..

Happy Birthday!

Closing my Windows.

A big move on in my computing. 

Warning! Today’s post has almost nothing to do with dogs plus if you are not into computing then you may want to come back tomorrow! 😉

A little over a week ago I ordered an Apple Mac computer.

So what, I hear you say.

Well one way or another, I have been associated with personal computing for too many years and with the Microsoft Windows operating system equally for a long time.

Here’s that history and, be warned, I do go on a tad!

In 1970 I joined the Office Products (OP) Division of IBM in the United Kingdom.  I joined as an office products salesman and after my initial training was based at IBM OP’s London North branch in Whetstone in the London Borough of Barnet.  I loved both the job (remember the Selectric ‘Golfball’ typewriter?) and the company and conspired to win the prize of top UK salesman for the year 1977.  By that time, IBM was selling dedicated word-processing (WP) machines.  They offered powerful benefits for companies of many sizes and, as an experienced WP salesman, I was enjoying the fruits of that success.  Thus it was that in 1978 I attended IBM’s Golden Circle celebrations for 1977 country winners from all around the world.  The Golden Circle celebrations were held in Hawaii!

I returned from Hawaii with the clear idea in my mind that this was the time to move on; my ego didn’t like the idea of not being number one again!  So within a couple of days of returning to my sales branch, I announced to my manager, David Halley, that I wished to give three months notice.  I can still recall David’s rather shocked response with him saying, “But I always thought Golden Circle was an incentive event!

In those days New Scientist magazine was a regular read for me.  During my time of working out my notice I read in the magazine about this new personal computer from Commodore Business Machines that had been launched in the UK.  It was called the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) and had been unveiled in 1977 at the US West Coast Computer Faire.  I was captivated by what I had read.

pet2001-black

I had casually mentioned it to Richard Maugham; a good friend and fellow office-products salesman working for Olivetti UK.  Richard said that coincidentally a close friend of many years had just been appointed sales manager for CBM UK Ltd.  That friend was Keith Hall and on making contact with Keith, I was invited to go and meet him and learn more about this funny device.  What I hadn’t bargained for was that Keith was yet another smart salesman; Keith and Richard had met when they were both salesmen working for Olivetti.

When I asked Keith the retail price of the ‘PET”, his immediate reply was, “Well why don’t you become a dealer and I can sell you one for 30% less!”  Like most salesmen, I was always a sucker to a good sales pitch! I signed the necessary paperwork. (It is very sad to say that Keith died a few years ago, at far too young an age.)

So it was that towards the end of 1978, I became the sixth Commodore computer dealer in the UK, opening my small store in what had once been a Barber’s shop in Church Street, off Head Street in the centre of Colchester, Essex.  I called my business Dataview Limited.

Frankly, I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing!  If it hadn’t been for a gigantic stroke of luck I would not have lasted long!

That piece of luck was meeting someone who was a programmer for a large, traditional computing company, ICL, who had bought himself a Commodore PET and, just out of fun, was writing a word-processing program. Now if I didn’t know about computers, personal or otherwise, I certainly knew about word-processing.  When I looked at what Peter D. had written I practically wet myself.  Because, I was looking at a program that even incomplete already offered three-quarters, give or take, of the functionality of a £20,000 IBM Word Processor.

I offered to guide Peter in refining and honing his software which he graciously accepted.  Then a few weeks later Peter casually asked me if I would like to sell the software.  I jumped at the opportunity and in due course Wordcraft was launched under the Dataview umbrella.  (And do see my footnote!)

But back to my Windows journey.

In 1981 IBM announced the release of their own personal computer.

IBM PC
IBM PC

With my love affair with IBM not even dimmed, becoming an IBM PC dealer was a must.  An IBM PC version of Wordcraft was developed by Peter and now things were really rocking and rolling.  Then in 1983 Microsoft announced the development of Windows, a graphical user interface (GUI) for the operating system MS-DOS.  MS-DOS was the existing operating system on the IBM PC.

By the time I sold Dataview in 1986, Windows was well on its way to evolving into a full personal computer operating system and ever since that time my own PCs have been Windows based.  (Difficult to imagine now how in those early years Windows didn’t achieve any popularity!)

OK, fast forward 27 years to my present machine running Windows 7, Google Chrome web browser and all the fancy ‘cloud’-based applications of today.

Much of my time spent writing and blogging relies on me being online.  Like so many others, as soon as I turn on my computer it becomes an online PC.  On average, I am working in front of my PC for about 3 to 4 hours per day.  However, slowly but surely over the past few months I have become aware of a number of strange occurrences, the most annoying of which is the regular ‘hanging’ of my Chrome browser.  This was happening at least on a daily basis and required the complete rebooting of my PC – a right pain in the posterior!

Muttering about this to friends who know a lot more about computing than I, raised my awareness that the privacy and security of one’s computer was no longer to be assumed.  Then just recently, I read online,

A Special Surveillance Chip

According to leaked internal documents from the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) that Die Zeit obtained, IT experts figured out that Windows 8, the touch-screen enabled, super-duper, but sales-challenged Microsoft operating system is outright dangerous for data security. It allows Microsoft to control the computer remotely through a built-in backdoor. Keys to that backdoor are likely accessible to the NSA – and in an unintended ironic twist, perhaps even to the Chinese.

The backdoor is called “Trusted Computing,” developed and promoted by the Trusted Computing Group, founded a decade ago by the all-American tech companies AMD, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Wave Systems. Its core element is a chip, the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and an operating system designed for it, such as Windows 8. Trusted Computing Group has developed the specifications of how the chip and operating systems work together.

Its purpose is Digital Rights Management and computer security. The system decides what software had been legally obtained and would be allowed to run on the computer, and what software, such as illegal copies or viruses and Trojans, should be disabled. The whole process would be governed by Windows, and through remote access, by Microsoft.

Then a few paragraphs later:

It would be easy for Microsoft or chip manufacturers to pass the backdoor keys to the NSA and allow it to control those computers. NO, Microsoft would never do that, we protest. Alas, Microsoft, as we have learned from the constant flow of revelations, informs the US government of security holes in its products well before it issues fixes so that government agencies can take advantage of the holes and get what they’re looking for.

Now I’m using Windows 7 so imagine my angst when I then read:

Another document claims that Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 is “already” no longer usable. But Windows 7 can “be operated safely until 2020.” After that other solutions would have to be found for the IT systems of the Administration.

That did it for me – time to move on from Windows.

Many Apple-user friends said that I should switch to the Apple Mac; that it was the only logical way to go.  I checked that all my important software applications that I used under Windows were compatible with the Apple Mac Operating System and thankfully they were.  I was speaking of Open Office, WordPress, Scrivener, Picasa, Skype.  Then I started to browse the Apple website.  I was clear about wanting a desktop machine, an iMac, and pretty soon realised that my change of personal computing was going to cost me around $1,500, perhaps a little more.

Then Dan Gomez, both long-time friend and Apple user, in browsing the web came across the Mac mini.  He called me and I took a look.  For well under half the price of an iMac, I could get a great alternative to my Windows PC and use many of my existing peripherals.

A quick conversation with Zachary of the Apple Mac mini sales team and the deed was done!  So all that remained was the great transition!

The box arrived last Wednesday.

Surely too small for a full-blooded personal computer?
Surely too small for a full-blooded personal computer?

I resisted opening the box until last Friday when I had some decent spare time.

This is a long, long way from the Commodore PET!
This is a long, long way from the Commodore PET!

Plugging it all together was easier than I feared.

Just screen and keyboard/mouse and we are good to go!
Just screen and keyboard/mouse and we are good to go!

Then the acid test. Could I even understand how to operate it?  I put that off until Saturday!

The new Mac mini system  on the right, all ready for me to play with!
The new Mac mini system on the right, all ready for me to play with!

I have to say that first impressions, especially of the elegance of the display and the icons, were great.

But this had to be a fully functional machine for me.  Where to start?  By downloading and installing the most critical of my software needs: Scrivener, my writing software.

Imagine my great pleasure and huge relief when less than a couple of hours later, not only had I downloaded and installed Scrivener for Apple Mac OS but had passed the latest backup file across from my Windows PC and accessed it on the Apple.

My (very) draft book file installed and running on the Mac mini!
My (very) draft book file installed and running on the Mac mini!

So, all in all, despite this being very early days, it’s starting to look like a great change.

However, I mustn’t close without thanking a few people:

Dan Gomez and John Hurlburt, friends and Apple users, and in John’s case experienced on both Windows and Apple systems. Guys, I couldn’t have made the decision to change without your kind, generous and supportive advice.

Zachary Brown of Apple sales, Mac mini team. Zach, I know it’s your job but nonetheless you did and said all the right things. (And the new screen is much better than my existing one!)

Last but not least, my dearest wife Jean, who just let me get on with things and even though I knew she didn’t have a clue as to what I kept muttering on about, never let on.

Footnote:

Earlier on I wrote about launching Wordcraft, the word-processing software for personal computers. That was in early 1979 and later that year I was invited to present Wordcraft at an international gathering of Commodore dealers held in Boston, Mass.

During my presentation, I used the word ‘fortnight’ unaware that Americans don’t know this common English word.  Immediately, someone about 10 rows back in the audience called out, “Hey, Handover! What’s a fortnight?”

It released the presenter’s tension in me and I really hammed my response in saying, “Don’t be so silly, everybody knows the word fortnight.” Seem to remember asking the audience at large who else didn’t know the word.  Of course, most raised their arms!

Now on a bit of a roll, I deliberately started using as many bizarre and archaic English words that came to me.  Afterwards, the owner of the voice came introduced himself.  He was Dan Gomez, a Californian based in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles and also involved in developing software for the Commodore.

Dan became my US West Coast distributor for Wordcraft and was very successful. When Dataview was sold, Dan and I continued to see each other regularly and I count him now as one of my dear friends.  Through knowing Dan I got to know Dan’s sister Suzann and her husband Don.  It was Su that invited me to spend Christmas 2007 with her and Don at their home in San Carlos, Mexico.  Jean also lived in San Carlos and was close friends with Su. Together they had spent many years rescuing feral dogs from the streets of San Carlos and finding new homes for them.

Thus it was that I met Jean.  Both Jean and I were born 20 miles apart in London!

So from ‘Hey, what’s a fortnight’ to living as happily as I have ever been in the rural countryside of Oregon.  Funny old world!

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
The ‘voice’ Dan Gomez – Best Man at the marriage of Jean and me, November 20th 2010.

Trip down memory lane

The amazing development of electronics over 50 years.

(A republication of a post first shown on the 13th August, 2009)

The calendar reliably informs me that this is my 65th year.  My brain, of course, lags somewhat in accepting this!

My step-father during my early teenage years worked for Elliott Brothers (the link goes to an interesting history of the firm that started in 1804) in Borehamwood, just north of London.  He encouraged me to fiddle with ‘steam’ radios and

try and understand how these basic circuits worked.  It was then a small step to deciding to become a radio amateur, popularly known as a radio ham!  In those days it was a case of some pretty intensive studying to pass a Theory exam as well as being able to pass an exam in sending and receiving Morse code.

So joining the local radio society seemed like a sensible idea.  That was (and still is!) called the Radio Society of Harrow.  That it is still in existence after all these years is truly delightful.  Those Friday night sessions at the Society and extra-curricular classes on Sunday morning at Ron Ray’s  (G2TA) house, an hour’s bicycle ride away from home, ensured that shortly after my 16th birthday I was granted a Licence, G3PUK.  It was a very proud moment.

Anyway, once granted a licence it was time to build my own radio transmitter.  Most of the details have been lost in the mists of time but what is recalled was that the final amplifier was a pair of 803s driving an 813 (These are radio valve numbers).  It sounds like something from the ark!  But again ploughing the inexhaustible files of the Web, it’s possible to see what these radio valves looked like.  Thanks to the National Valve Museum.

Here are pictures, courtesy of the National Valve Museum of those two radio valves:

803 – The substantial wide glass tube envelope is 58 mm in diameter (2 1/4 in) and, excluding the special five pin base pins, is 216 mm tall (8 1/2 in).

813 The classic envelope is substantial at 60 mm diameter (2 1/3 in) and 170 mm (6 2/3 in) long excluding the special base pins. The anode is 53 mm long and 48 mm wide. The metal is 1 mm thick.

803 radio valve
803 radio valve
813 radio valve
813 radio valve

It’s difficult, today, to imagine devices which are essentially diodes (well, technically the 803 was a pentode and the 813 a tetrode) being between 6 and 8 inches tall!

My own self-build transmitter had not really been successful emitting more heat than light, so to speak.  Literally, in the sense that these large radio valves kept me warm in my converted garden shed at the bottom of the garden.  They also completely wiped out TV reception for those households with a 1/4 mile range that had invested in early television sets!  It was time to move on to the R1155.

Around this era, less than 20 years after the end of the War in Europe in 1945, war-surplus equipment was widely available including ‘compact’ transmitter-receiver units.

One popular one was the RAF R1155 which had been fitted to RAF Lancaster bombers and RAF marine craft.  It was also fitted to the Sunderland flying boat.  This information plus the photos below is from this fascinating web site for those wishing to be ‘geeky’ about this.

RAF R1155B transreceiver
RAF R1155B transreceiver
Internal view of the R1155B
Internal view of the R1155B

Just compare the view on the right to the inside of your domestic radio or your cell phone.

A lot happens in 50 years!

My personal journey now leaps to 1978 and I have just left IBM UK having had 8 fabulous years with them as an Office Products salesman.  My fledging company, Dataview Ltd, has just become the 8th Commodore Computer (CBM) dealer in the UK, based in a small office in Colchester, Essex, about 50 miles north-east of London.

The CBM PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) released in 1977 initially with a calculator type keyboard was useless for any business application but soon came out with a typewriter sized keyboard, making it a more viable business

CBM computer, circa 1978
CBM computer, circa 1978

machine.  Today, as this is typed on an ‘old’ laptop with 2GB RAM, it seems unbelievable that these CBMs were sold with between 4k and 96k of RAM (memory) and no hard disk, although one could purchase an add-on that comprised dual 5 1/2 inch floppy disk drives.

YouTube obligingly finds  a short video on the Commodore PET for those really wishing to enjoy the nostalgia!

So to turn to the 21st century and to run out of understanding.  We appear to live in a world of multi-later printed circuit boards of unimaginable (to me) component density, assuming that the word ‘component’ is even relevant today.

Haven't a clue what this is but it's very modern.
Haven’t a clue what this is but it’s very modern.

What an amazing period it has been!

A long way from yesterday!
A long way from yesterday!

Now let me see was it Pin 920 to Pin 140, or Pin14 to Pin 860 connected to Pin 56 ………?