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The Southsider

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The BBC Microcomputer

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Here is another nostalgia piece before I get back on the Atari track:My love of 8-bit computing started shortly after our school obtained its first computer: a BBC Micro Model A. This was the early 80's and home computers had only recently become affordable. The BBC Micro is virtually unknown outside the UK, but the design was commissioned by the BBC (our national broadcaster) to accompany a range of educational broadcasts on computer literacy. As such, it became the computer of choice for schools in the UK over many years, and became my favourite 8-bit platform. The computer itself was an impressive high-specification 6502-based machine, though I won't bore you with further technical specification here. post-5055-1082428331_thumb.jpgFor the first few weeks, the head teacher proudly showed off the computer through the various classrooms, though his experience was rather limited, and this primarily consisted of running the demos that came with the machine. I was instantly impressed by the computer, and I was really looking forward to learning more about it. However, after a month or so, the computer became rather neglected as none of the other teachers had the necessary knowledge or time to spend with it, and the school had purchased only a few pieces of software. As a result, the school were happy to let anyone who showed an interest use the computer during break times, although games were strictly forbidden.Subsequently, a group of us spent every spare minute that we could figuring out the workings of the machine from the manual. In a short time while we had learned most of the BASIC commands, and could get the machine to play sounds, display fancy graphics, and so on. We typed in program listings from various magazines and books, and a few months later we able to write simple BASIC games such as hangman, and noughts-and-crosses. Unfortunately the time that I got to spend on the computer was frustratingly limited, as the machine was shared between many pupils. I had to write down my programs on paper (a habit I still maintain), and type them in during my precious few minutes computing time. I therefore began a campaign to get one of the machines for myself, and began harrassing my parents continuously!Unfortunately, my parents were unable to afford the machine as it cost a lot of money, and they were not great believers in computer technology. I did not get to own a BBC Micro myself until many years later. However, as a consolation, my father was able to borrow a BBC Micro from his workplace on some weekends and holidays. This allowed me to increase my computing time considerably, though it was never enough! I began to save my money earnestly and took on any job that I could find. My parents did eventually agree to pay for half of the cost of the machine, if I could find the other half, but it was still a mountain to climb. By the time I had saved up enough money, it was the late 80's and the BBC Micro was now rather obsolete. As a result, the first computer that I purchased with my hard-earned money was an Atari ST. However, I will leave that for another day!ChrisFootnote:The BBC Micro was made by a British company called Acorn. To design a successor to the BBC Micro, they span off a microprocessor company called Acorn Risc Machines (ARM). The ARM processor that they designed was used in a computer called the Archimedes, but it was never as popular as the BBC Micro, and eventially the original Acorn company company folded. However, ARM continued to build and market their processor designs, and they became very successful. Eventually they were bought by Intel, and the ARM processor is now used in many different places, including the Gameboy Advance. Therefore, when I play on my GBA, I am in-fact using a distant descendant of my favourite machine: the BBC Micro!

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