Tag Archives: Matt Marvell

Gadget Man Episode 144 – Retro Gadget of the Week – Part 9 – 80s Home Computers

In our penultimate episode of Retro Gadget of the Week, we take a look at one the most revolutionary moments in computer history,  where an explosion of homegrown talent changed the very face of the personal computer marketplace and faced up directly the power of Silicon Valley with low-cost home computers designed in the UK

Commodore VIC20 Personal Computer
Commodore VIC20 Personal Computer, my first computer in all it’s 3.5k glory and 22 columns display

I was very lucky to receive a Commodore VIC20 personal computer for one of my birthdays in the 80s and proceeded to embrace coding head-on! Unlike other home computers, the VIC20 only supported it’s own tape drive, so instead of using our portable cassette play like my mates with Sinclair ZX Spectrums, I had to wait until I save enough money to buy my own Commodore Datasette.  This meant that every single program I wrote on the Vic was lost when the power was switched off, I either needed to write down my code or memorise it!

Alongside the American VIC20, a slew of other devices was released by UK based companies. The most famous was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and ZX81. However, other notable UK made systems included the BBC Model B (built by Acorn), Dragon 32Amstrad CPC464, Apricot F1, Camputers Lynx, Gundy Newbrain, Jupiter Ace, Memotech MTX, Tangerine Oric 1 and many others.

Dragon 32
The Dragon 32 used the Motorola 6809 CPU

Almost all home computers of the era were based on the Zilog Z80 or MOS 6502 microprocessors with a small number going with the Motorola 6809 (which was more advanced that the Zilog and MOS processors).

The computers were generally self-contained devices, combining keyboards and computers as one with connectivity with colour or black and white TV’s which the user was generally expected to supply. Other peripherals were available such as tape drives, floppy disk drives, printers, joysticks and light-pens. Some models also supported plug-in cartridges which generally allowed the owner to play pre-programmed games.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K 48K
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K was the darling of the 80s market due to it’s price and range of games

The first to the market came with minute amounts of programmable RAM in the region of 1K to 5K, later entrants from the UK market settings with 16K or 32K with some stretching even further.  If I compare this to my Sony Xperia 1 mobile that I use today, this comes with 6 Gigabytes of RAM which is roughly 1,700,000 times more than my Commodore VIC!

Commodore 64 Personal Computer
The higher-end Commodore 64 Personal Computer with its sprite graphics, outstanding sound and award-winning games had a longer stay than most in the market
BASIC Code - Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code
An example of Commodore BASIC Code – Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code

Almost every computer came preloaded the BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language which allowed a new breed of programmers to begin crafting their own code. Although the basics of each version of BASIC remained similar, that’s where it ended, different hardware and firmware made each machine incompatible with the other. Having a market saturated with different devices which didn’t speak the same dialect was the architect of their demise.

BBC Micro Model B
The BBC Micro Model B, built by Acorn as a joint venture with BBC. It found it’s way into schools as the staple computer for education.

After 3 to 4 years, the majority of these computers had become obsolete and fell out of use leaving the BBC Model B surviving through use in UK schools, colleges and universities and the Commodore 64 which had become a glorified games console rather than a way for young people to gain computer experience.

IBM PC AT
The IBM_PC_AT and it’s lower cost clones swooped in and stole the market

Along came affordable IBM PC clones from Dell, Compaq, AST and Gateway which WERE compatible with each other. Users began migrating across to these PC compatibles and the market was replaced at home and office. It was the end of an era.

Without the likes of Commodore or Acorn, my life would have been very different, so I have to tip my hat to the 80s Home Computer!.

Listen in to the podcast above to find out more and don’t forget to LIKE, SUBSCRIBE, SHARE and COMMENT!!!

See you next time

Matt
The Gadget Man
(Former Programmer of CBM Basic, BBC Basic, DataGeneral Basic, Testpoint Basix and Visual Basic)

Image Credits: Wikipedia

 

 

Gadget Man – Episode 142 – Retro Gadget Part 8 – Nokia 3310 Mobile Phone

We’re now on the home straight with the Retro Gadgets Series and what better classic gadget to feature but the legendary Nokia 3310 mobile phone.

This is certainly a gadget that needs very little introduction, after being introduced in 2000, the handset went on to sell more than 126,000,000 units. What’s more, the handset continues to be used in many households today.  I previously discussed the handset in Episode 98 with James Hazell.

Nokia’s new owners HMD relaunched the device in 2017 with a homage to the original device, attempting to capture a new market of low-cost mobile phones. This too was covered in Episode 102 with Mark Murphy.

The Nokia 3310 launches in the UK
The Original Nokia 3310 and the the 2017 HMD Nokia 3310 reboot

Today, however, it was the turn of Matt Marvell to listen to my lament about this classic piece of technology history.

You can listen in to the recording by clicking at the top of the post. Don’t forget to LIKE, SUBSCRIBE, SHARE and most importantly COMMENT. I’ll catch up with you next time

Matt Porter
The Gadget Man

Gadget Man – Episode 140 – Retro Gadgets Part 7 – The GPO Telephone Handset

Before the age of privatisation of utility companies in the United Kingdom, the General Post Office (GPO) of the United Kingdom was responsible solely for the provision of telecommunication services for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The notable exception was Kingston Upon Hull which has been granted the licence to provide it’s own telephone services in 1906.

Alongside its telephone services, the GPO also issued a variety of telephones for use on this service. Although handsets were supplied in different forms, it wasn’t until 1937 when a new line of ‘portable’ telephones was introduced using the Type 332 code number. These telephones used the rotary dial system with the handset sitting directly on top of the unit.

During 1959, the 700 series was released by the GPO. This was launched after public demand for handsets similar to those featured on US television shows. These devices were modern in design with anti-tangle cord and came in very smart two-tone colour schemes. This was the design which is still found in many homes some 60 years after launch (although some modification was necessary to bring them in line with current BT sockets).

The 706 models came in two-tone green, topaz yell, concorde blue, two-tone grey, topaz yellow, lacquer red, ivory and black. The red models being in great demand still today.

Such was the popularity and demand for the Model 706 and later the Model 746, several manufacturers were contracted for its manufacture with both table-top and wall mounted version was available to rent.

GPO Type 746 Telephones
GPO Type 746 Telephones – Image Credit: Wikipedia

In 1981, the GPO was privatised and the New Plan Socket was introduced for all new handsets, this allowed for approved 3rd party telephones to be either rented or purchased for use on the British Telecom network. The public was quick to drop this rotary dial phone in favour of new Tone-Dialing push-button models and the 746 was consigned to history and in many cases rubbish-skips and land-fill.

However, I think every house needs at least one Model 746.

Listen in the audio attached and listen to me talking to Matt Marvell on BBC Radio Suffolk about this amazing retro gadget

Thanks for reading and listening, don’t forget to LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE and I will see you next time.

Matt
The Gadget Man

Gadget Man – Episode 139 – Retro Gadgets Part 6 – The Breville Sandwich Toaster

We’re now at part six of the Retro Gadget series. This week I spoke to Matt Marvell at BBC Radio Suffolk about the absolutely amazing Breville Sandwich Toaster!

Many a Saturday lunchtime in my youth was provided by this gadget. Where I would mostly find my toasted sandwich contained ham, cheese and tomato, I found in later years there was a myriad of ingredients that could provide fillings to tantalise your taste-buds.

Toasted Sandwich
Toasted Sandwich

A great idea, place two buttered slices of bread in the toaster with the filling of your choice ‘sandwiched ‘ between them. Lock down the plates and wait for the light to turn green. Hey Presto! The meal of your dreams.

You can listen in to the audio stream to find out what I thought above the Sandwich Toaster and it’s cousin, the Waffle Iron.

In the meantime, I’ve done a bit of research into more adventurous Toasted Sandwich fillings:-

Takeaway Curry Sandwiches – Now this appeals to me, I used to be a great fan of Curry-on-toast, the night after a takeaway, so taking the idea a step further with a Curry Sandwich, sounds delicious!

Spaghetti Bolognese Sandwiches – Similar to the former, I’ve tried this on toast too! I bet it tastes amazing!

Cheese and Marmite Toastie – I’ve tried this and can confirm it’s lovely! Assuming you like Marmite.

Peanut Butter and Marmite Toastie – I love Peanut Butter and Marmite on toast for breakfast and can imagine having the ingredients toasted in a sealed package would be very nice indeed.

Cheese and Pineapple Toastie – This sounds divine! OK, I’m off to make one for myself, where’s the pineapple?

If you enjoy a toasted sandwich? Let me know, what’s your favourite filling, comment below and let me know.

Don’t have a Sandwich Toaster? You can buy one at our Amazon Store by clicking below


Don’t forget to Like, Subscribe and Share and I will see you soon.

Happy Toasting!!

Matt

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Image by Rebecca Humann from Pixabay

Gadget Man – Episode 131 – Retro Gadgets – Part One – Casio MG-880 Music and Game Calculator

This week begins a 10 week series of Retro Gadgets. Technology which has featured in my life and evokes childhood memories.

Listen in on the audio recording above. I have included a surprise at the end which wasn’t recorded at the time. 

If you grew up in the  ’70s or ’80s, you may have experienced some of these gadgets. You might be still using them or maybe they are gathering dust in a drawer.

The first of these is an absolutely awesome gadget. A gadget which opened up the national curriculum to the use of calculators. It also introduced us to mobile gaming.  Leading thousands of young people to huddle around each other in the schoolyards of the early 1980s.

Casio MG-880

Released in the summer of 1980, the Casio MG-880 was ostensibly a calculator aimed at young people. The 1980s saw a revolution in the teaching techniques applied to mathematics in schools. Initially seen as a way of ‘cheating’. Soon, however, it was accepted as a legitimate means to ‘check’ calculations, whilst continuing to show workings-out’ in answers.

Casio had something up their sleeve though. Their customers not only received a calculator, but they also received a musical instrument and game. This was genius marketing, Casio tapped into the school market and rewarded the kids at the same time.

The Calculator

The calculator functionality allowed for addition, subtraction, multiplication and addition. In addition to this, results could be written to memory, recalled and directly subtracted or added to further calculations. Percentage calculations were also included.

It was a beautifully designed device which hasn’t aged at all.

The Casio MG-880 Pocket Calculator
The Casio MG-880 – a creation of a timeless design that hasn’t aged over its 40 years!

Music

MG-880 provided musical entertainment by either a preprogrammed ‘Oh When the Saints’ or by users composing their own music. Musical keys illustrated by the relevant Solfège above the enabled buttons allowed for simple compositions.

Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key
Musical keys on the MG-880 were illustrated by the relevant Solfège above each key

The sound came from a piezoelectric speaker. The result was a fine 80s sound that comfortably sits alongside games to follow. I was fond of playing the Star Wars’ theme. For for those interested is 1-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-2-8-5-4-3-4-2.

IYou can hear this being played at the end of the attached podcast. 

It was no secret that switching the calculator to ‘music’ mode in a lesson would result in its swift confiscation.

The Game (Digi-Invaders / Space Invaders / Invaders)

The ace in the pack was in the inclusion of the Game. This took the form of a button mashing invaders themed game utilising the simplest of graphics, the number display itself.

The invaders game required the using decimal-point to cycle through 0-9 and n which denoted the mothership. Digits slowly advance across the screen from right to left. The player matches the number and presses ‘fire’ to remove it. Each level became faster and more difficult. Lives are lost when invaders reach the base.

The game was an instant hit across the planet, from my school in Hitchin, England to schools in New Zealand, every child wanted to own one and more-so, they wanted to excel at the game. Millions of the devices must have been sold with a substantial amount of them confiscated by over-enthusiastic teaching staff!

As with all fads, the MG-880 fell out of favour to be replaced by more advanced handheld games and creating a new boom in entertainment. Perhaps thousands of them still exist in boxes on the shelves of staff-rooms around the world.

This was the beginning of Casio’s boom. Relentlessly creative, they produced some the most ingenious of technology of the 80s. From calculators to watches with built-in calculators and melodies, they were the kings within their marketplace.

Don’t forget to listen to the audio using the link above. It was recorded at BBC Radio Suffolk & broadcast on the 11 May 2019. Listen to the VERY END! I have included something geeky and special.

Thanks to Matt Marvel at BBC Radio Suffolk for inviting onto his show. Keep tuning in for the next 10 weeks for more gems!