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Monthly Archives: March 2011

One Night in Camden

“I wish there had been a music business 101 course I could have taken.” —Kurt Cobain

Pippi and the Butcherbirds were on the B side of this 7" single from 1997

The parties lasted all day on VE day in 1995, but things really started going in the evening at The Monarch in Chalk Farm Road, Camden. The entertainment was provided by a triple bill of new bands; Autopop, Pippi and the Butcher Birds and Camden’s own rising stars The Weekenders.

Autopop were a four piece group with their origins in Ireland. Eddie, the guitarist, and Aidn, the bassist came to England with two other members who subsequently left. They then met singer Chris from Norwich and drummer Dave.

“Our problem is we look like a bunch of accountants,” says Eddie joking. They do look familiar though. They cite their influences as The Who, The Jam, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and the resulting sound is similar to two current popular bands. “Oasis are good and Blur aren’t bad either,” says Eddie. “We want to tour and sell lots of records,” says Chris. They would be returning to the Monarch on June 6.

People came from as far as High Wycombe to see their favourite band but some fans travelled a little further. Pippi and the Butcher Birds, two girls from Sweden and drummer Andy Ireland brought their fan club with them. Tina Bränden is the lead singer and plays guitar and harmonica and Lina Ikse Bergman plays bass and sings backing vocals.

Not long into the set the fan club started pogoing madly and they played a fun and bouncy set. When Tina screamed into the microphone though people started looking around to see if a spaceship had landed. The girls more than proved it’s what you’ve got between your ears, not your legs when it comes to making good music.

After requests for several encores they finally managed to leave the stage. Their influences include The Clash, The Rolling Stones, The Sundays and Swedish punk rock. With tender songs like Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful, You Don’t See The S— In Me they could go far.

The Weekenders were the band that most people had come to see and they were the highlight of the evening. With the songs Man of Leisure, Don’t Keep Up With The Jones’s (Drag Them Down To Your Level) and Window Shopper they speak to an intelligent youth who like to have some decent lyrics to listen to while they’re dancing.

Paul Tunkin is the singer, Steve Smith plays drums, James Hendon plays guitar and Chris Remington plays bass. They have their Mod influences, doesn’t everybody these days, but the audience loved it when they went all Punk. No pogoing though. But with a bit of luck they could make it very big indeed.

Melody Maker had recently devoted two pages to The Weekenders and it was not hard to see why. Their first single which they released on their own label sold over 3,000 copies and their follow-up single, Incredibly Wasted would come out on June 9. It was debatable whether or not there was a Mod revival in progress but there were certainly some fresh bands around and you’d see them in Camden.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Entertainment

 

Profile: Teresa Maughan

“Why am I a magazine publisher? Is it because I love magazines?
No. It’s because I had a tiny success back in 1967 selling a hippy magazine on London’s fashionable King’s Road.” —Felix Dennis

T'zer: The YS years

Long before Felix Dennis struck magazine gold with Maxim, Dennis Publishing was known as Sportscene Specialist Press, and as the kung-fu fad of the 1970s passed home computers were going to be the next big thing. One of the many titles Dennis launched in that period was called Your Spectrum, a magazine dedicated to an 8-bit computer designed in Cambridge, England and made in Scotland.

Possibly the longest serving YS staffer, Teresa Maughan, known as T’zer, rose through the ranks to become production, then deputy editor under Kevin Cox. Kevin had taken over editorship from Roger Munford in 1985 and oversaw the relaunch as Your Sinclair.

“He’s a transvestite and likes to be known as Kylie to his friends,” she alleges.

In 1987 she took over from Kevin and remained editor until 1989 when she became YS publisher.

“In reality I did anything and everything,” she says.

Her abiding memories of YS are “laughing like a drain for four years solid, listening to Snouty and Berkmann swap jokes continuously—some of them were actually funny, dressing up in ridiculous outfits in the name of work, young boys asking me to sign their T-shirts (and other things!) at the Earl’s Court games shows—I could never understand why, as I didn’t feel famous, wondering whether Duncan MacDonald was going to show up for work or whether he was out on one of his ‘jaunts’. and Hold My Hand Very Tightly—nobody croons like David Wilson.”

Since leaving YS, she has had three children, born in 1993, 1995 and 2000 and continued her career in journalism. This has included editing Dennis’s Mohammed Ali: The Glory Years, a stint of production on Linux User magazine, and launching and packaging the now forgotten Star Pets Magazine.

“It was aimed at girls and all about celebrities and their pets and pop,” she recalls.

She has written extensively for the teen market from a series of unofficial pop biographies to more serious titles for Channel 4 Books including Model Behaviour, and four self-help books to accopmany the award-winning Wise Up Sunday morning show for teens. Her favourite ZX Spectrum game of all time is the unreleased Prince of Persia. “I loved the way he moved. Otherwise it has to be Advanced Lawnmower Simulator designed by Duncan MacDonald.”

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Entertainment, Profile, Technology

 

Back to BASIC

“The less fortunate BASICs picked up bad habits and vulgar language. We would no sooner think of using street BASIC than we would think of using FORTRAN.” —Kemeny & Kurtz

Detail from the cover of Zilog's ZDS-1 manual

Sinclair BASIC is a popular version of the BASIC (Beginner’s All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language. Originally written for the ZX80 which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, it is now available for a wide range of computers in native versions or via emulation. This is the history of its evolution.

In July 1975 Micro-Soft, as it was then called, shipped BASIC (Beginner’s All purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) version 2.0 for the MITS Altair 8800 hobbyist computer. This was the first commercial version of the Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code programming language, originally developed by Hungaraian-American John George Kemeny, and Thomas Eugene Kurtz in 1964 at Dartmouth College in the United States.

By then Kemeny and Kurtz had addressed the main criticisms of BASIC; that it lacked structure and encourage bad programming habits, but the 4K and 8K versions for the Altair, written by Paul Allen and Bill Gates, were based on the original Dartmouth BASIC.

Microsoft BASIC became so popular that it made Gates and Allen their first fortune and was subsequently supplied with the majority of 8-bit computers. So not surprisingly, when the ANSI Standard for Minimal BASIC (X3.60-1978) was launched, it was based mainly on the Microsoft version.

In May 1979, a team of Clive Sinclair’s engineers in Cambridge, England, headed by Jim Westwood, began work on the machine that would become the ZX80. Sinclair was inspired to create the machine after seeing how much his son enjoyed using a TRS-80 but guessing that many people would be put off buying one because of the high price — just under £500.

Unlike Sinclair’s previous foray in to the computer hobbyist market, the MK14, this machine would ship with BASIC, based on the ANSI standard. At Commodore, Jack Tramiel managed to negotiate a permanent licence from Gates for a fixed one-time fee which did not require Microsoft to be given an on-screen credit. To this day many people are not aware that Commodore BASIC is Microsoft BASIC.

But at Sinclair the aim was to keep costs to a minimum, and that precluded paying even a one off fee to Microsoft. To this end, Sinclair had already met with John Grant of Nine Tiles in April to discuss the software requirements of the ZX80.

Given the tiny research and development budget, Nine Tiles stood to make hardly any money out of the deal, but the feeling was that the project was exciting and worthwhile, and one the company would benefit from being associated with.

To achieve the launch price of £79.95 in kit-form, RAM was limited to 1K
and the integer BASIC had to be crammed into a 4K ROM. Grant wrote the bulk of the ROM between June and July. But the resulting program was 5K in length so Grant spent that August trimming the code.

It was written using Zilog’s own assembler on the ZDS1 development system.

“Most of the source was written in pencil and then typed in,” says John.

“24 lines of 80 characters didn’t let you see enough to write code directly on the screen.”

This was not long after code was typed on to cards or paper tape and programmers had one or two runs a day.

“If you left out a semicolon, say, you couldn’t just put it in and recompile,” says John.

“It meant we were quite careful to make sure everything was right.”

The ROM program was debugged on the Zilog system using the VDU to emulate the screen and keyboard. The only hardware development aid was an oscilloscope.

“It was only the hardware related parts that had to be debugged on the prototype,” says John.

“The first few EPROMs we put into the prototype stuck in a tight enough loop that we could just read and note down each of the address and data signals to find out what was going on.

“Once we got a picture on the television we could see what was happening and the rest was easy. If you didn’t get a picture you knew it was because of a change you’d just made.”

According to Cambridge mathematician Steve Vickers, who wrote the subsequent versions of Sinclair BASIC: “The ZX80 integer BASIC, written by John Grant, was in Z80 assembly code pure and simple, though it did use the usual stack based techniques for interpreting expressions.”

The lack of support for floating-point numbers, overshadows Grant’s achievement. He laid the path for things to come, introducing many unique features of Sinclair BASIC, such as the way it refuses to allow most syntax errors to be entered into the program, instead pointing out where the error is in the line before it is entered, making it much easier to learn and use than any other version of BASIC.

The kit was launched at a computer fair in the first week of February 1980, and while it was not a massive success by comparison with the ZX Spectrum, it turned Sinclair’s fortunes around, eventually earning him a knighthood, and it sold well enough to persuade him to make a new computer – the ZX81.

Work on the hardware had begun in September 1979, even before the launch of the ZX80, but it was the development of the uncommitted logic array, or ULA, which allowed the machine to go into production. The ULA, produced by Ferranti for Sinclair, reduced the total chip count to just four (ROM, RAM, ULA, Z80) and brought the retail cost of the machine, in kit-form, down to £49.95. Clive Sinclair recently remarked that of the ZX machines he was most proud of the ZX81. It was elegant inside and out, and while the Spectrum was a bigger success it should be seen as a development of the amazing work that went into the ZX81.

Again, Nine Tiles was called on to provide the New BASIC, but this time there was 8K to play with. Vickers, who had joined Nine Tiles in January 1980, wrote a new set of floating point arithmetic routines, and modified Grant’s work extensively, while retaining much of the ZX80 code.

“As far as Clive was concerned, it wasn’t a question of what the machine ought to be able to do, but more what could be crammed into the machine given the component budget he’d set his mind on,” said Vickers in an interview on July 23, 1985. “The only firm brief for the ZX81 was that the ZX80’s math package must be improved.”

The ROM was almost complete by the end of autumn 1980, but support still had to be added for the ZX Printer. Somewhere between this time and the launch, a bug crept in which caused the square root of 0.25 to be 1.3591409. Vickers quickly fixed the bug, but Sinclair was somewhat tardy in making this version available to people who had already bought the machine.

Despite this problem, the ZX81 was well received and became a massive success. Buoyed by the public’s reaction, and partly in an attempt to win the contract to design a computer for the British Broadcasting Corporation, which eventually went to Acorn,  Sinclair decided to develop a colour computer.

The ZX80 and ZX81 hardware had been the primarily the work of Jim Westwood, but he had been moved to the flat-screen television department, so the hardware design job on the machine which became the ZX Spectrum, was given to Richard Altwasser. Rick Dickinson again provided the industrial design, while at Nine Tiles, Vickers provided the BASIC.

The ZX Spectrum ROM retains almost the entire ZX81 program but further improves the arithmetic and adds support for the, sound, colour and hi-res graphics.

Sinclair wanted as few changes to the ZX81 code as possible but at Nine Tiles the feeling was that software designed for a machine with 1K was inappropriate for a machine with 16K and that problems would occur later on. They were right.

“Certainly with the Spectrum we wanted to rewrite the code, but there wasn’t the time and there definitely weren’t the resources,” says Grant. “At every point Clive wanted the maximum new facilities for the minimum money.”

After the best part of a year’s work the BASIC was almost finished. While it was greatly enhanced, it was also depressingly slow, but more problems were to follow. The main problem was providing support for the planned peripherals because no working prototypes were available to Vickers until near the end of 1981. But then, in February 1982 Nine Tiles began to have financial disagreements with Sinclair over royalties which it became apparent would not be forthcoming. To make matters worse, Vickers and Altwasser both handed in their resignations in order to form their own company, Cantab, which went on to produce the Jupiter Ace, essentially a ZX80 with the Forth language built-in in place of BASIC. The result of the delays these problems caused was that when Sinclair launched the machine, it did so with an incomplete ROM. Nine Tiles continued working on the ROM for three months after the launch in April 1982, but by then too many units had been sold and the program was never finished.

The original plan was to issue only a limited number of Spectrums with the incomplete ROM and provide an upgrade, much in the way the bug in the ZX81 ROM had been handled,but by the time Sinclair got its act together, around 75,000 units had been sold and the plan became unworkable.

This is the reason why the microdrive commands don’t work in the standard ROM, and hence led to the development by Ian Logan of the shadow ROM in the Interface 1 in order to handle peripherals which should have been supported directly by BASIC.

Various ‘enhancements’ were made to the BASIC over the years, including the extra syntax of the shadow ROM introduced with the Sinclair Interface I, and in America in 1983 when an attempt was made to overhaul the BASIC by Timex when it launched the TS2068. But again, the version of the ROM launched with the machine was incomplete, and the TS2068 was unable to run the majority of Spectrum software because of hard-coded calls to locations in the ROM which were different in the Spectrum.

In 1985, in a joint venture with its Spanish distributor Investronica, Sinclair launched the Spectrum 128, codenamed Derby, with a new editor bolted on to the original BASIC. This was slightly more compatible than the Timex effort but the editor was bug ridden, and some software refused to work, even in 48 mode, because the empty space at the end of the original ROM, used as a table by some programs, was now overwritten with extra code.

It did introduce some useful new commands and a built-in text editor, although inexplicably these were replaced with a menu system with less functionality in the English version of the machine launched the following year. However, criticism of the 128 Editor must be put in context. The programmers were relying on the Logan & O’Hara disassembly of the original ROM publised by Melbourne House, since if Sinclair ever had a copy of the original source by now it had been lost, and were working on a network of VAX machines running CP/M.

Fortunately, tracing the development of the 128 Editor is made easier by the fact that the initials of programmers are stored at the beginning of the Spanish ROM and (MB, KM, and AT) at the end of the English ROM (Martin Brennan, Steve Berry, Andrew Cummins, Rupert Goodwins and Kevin Males).

According to Rupert Goodwins, editor of the +2 manual and the person responsible for the Spectrum logo on the menu system, the Sinclair programmers didn’t realise that the unused bytes in the original ROM were being used as a table by games programmers.

“The television test screen and other ancillary code was in there for production testing,” he says.

“As Spectrums came off the production line, they got checked and set up for keyboard, tape, ports, colour, and sound.”

Goodwins recalls there being an Interface 2-style cartridge system at one point but that most of the test code ended up in the ROM.

“We had the space and it’s obviously cheaper and more efficient that way.”

There were also some strange features planned for the 128 which were removed before production as they couldn’t be made to work properly.

“There were certainly plans to do more with the keypad. What a bizarre idea that was,” he says.

“It was originally supposed to have been a mouse as well. Can you imagine?”

Kevin Males worked on both versions of the 128 Editor ROM.

“I wrote the music string interpreter for the 128, plus various other bits and pieces that never made it into the ROM,” he says.

“I also did a lot of work on microdrives, but its a long time since I wrote any Z80 code though!”

He may also be the author of the text editor in the original Spanish Editor.

“I recall working on various text editors for the 128 that didn’t make it into the ROM,” he says.

In addition, he worked on automated test and diagnostic software for both Spectrum & QL microdrives. He was also involved in the notorious Loki project.

“Towards the end I started looking at software to control a proposed digital synth for the new games machine but the company was sold before that could be realised,” he says

Martin Brennan, who worked on no-end of projects at Sinclair, wrote the editor with contributions from Steve Berry, and Andrew Cummins probably wrote the tricky number handling code.

Amazingly, Sinclair never owned the rights to the ROM. Amstrad had to acquire them seperately from Nine Tiles in 1986 when it bought out Sinclair.

When Spectrum clones began appearing back in late 1984, Sinclair Research boss Nigel Searle found he was powerless to do anything about it because the only really unique part of the Spectrum was the ROM and in the disagreements following the Spectrum’s launch, Sinclair had failed to acquire the rights, for which it had originally offered Grant £5,000. By now the Spectrum had sold more than 2.5 million units.

Amstrad only obtained the rights to the Spectrum and the QL, which they sold on. It permits the distribution of the Spectrum ROM in software only.

Nine Tiles Networks retains the rights to the ZX80 and ZX81 ROMs and has permitted their use under the GPL open source license.

Sinclair Research retains the rights to the Interface 1 ROM. In fact, the developers of the SAM Coupe, a powerful Z80 based machine with a Sinclair compatible BASIC, approached Nine Tiles with a view to licensing the floating-point routines from the ZX81 ROM. But, at the time the asking price was too high.

Towards the end of 1986, when Amstrad wanted to create a Spectrum with a built in disk drive, it simply took the DOS from its PCW machine and patched the 128 editor to provide simple disk access. The operating system, written by Cliff Lawson, was a very good one, although its full power remained untapped by +3 BASIC. It is also at the heart of ResiDOS.

Unfortunately none of the bugs were fixed in the first version of the +3 and new ones were introduced, but perhaps this is understandable as there was little documentation at the Sinclair Computers division and development had moved from a VAX network running CP/M to a room full of PCWs running CP/M which was less than ideal.

Amstrad stopped selling the last Spectrum model, the +2B, in the early 1990s. For a time it looked as if the SAM Coupe might offer an upgrade path to Sinclair BASIC users, but after two false starts the machine disappeared into obscurity.

However, thanks mainly to Paul Dunn’s BASin (an integrated development environment for Sinclair BASIC) the language has been undergoing something of a renaissance. Although it is designed for Windows it also runs on Linux under Wine.

As for the future, Dunn is now working on a project called SpecOS which will enable you to use the full power of the host machine from Sinclair BASIC.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Technology

 

Profile: Keith Perch

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.” —Cyril Connolly

When Keith Perch took over the editorship of the Cardiff based South Wales Echo in 1993 the paper did not know what was about to hit it. Almost immediately on arrival he fired 40 people and replaced them. He says: “The trouble with the profession is you spend a third of the time trying to find good people.”

The then 37-year-old went on to spent quarter of a million pounds on new technology placing the Echo at the forefront of newspaper publishing with full electronic page makeup and saving £1 million a year in production costs. From the time printing starts, an issue could now be on the streets in under half an hour.

In the first six months Perch turned the broadsheet with falling sales into a tabloid with increasing sales and rather than reducing quality he improved it. He knows the key to success and it earned him a free reign in a company which was supposed to frequently interfere in editorial decisions. But as he explains he was their “experiment” and he appeared to be leading the way for the entire Thomson group.

Perch was born in Epsom in 1957. His father was in the Royal Air Force and his mother did secretarial work. He has a sister and three brothers who are not journalists. After gaining a degree in philosophy and classics he got started in reporting in 1978 by writing a ten page letter to the editor of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. After a two day interview he was accepted.

His career has involved Perch in most of the positions on a daily newspaper. It took him from Grimsby to the Derby Evening Telegraph and then on to the Birmingham Post Mail where he was made head of special investigations. He was expected to produce three stories a year. “It was a ludicrous job,” he says, “I got so bored waiting for the phone to ring that I had to do more.” After six months he returned to Derby to become news editor and after 18 months he was assistant editor of Hull’s Daily Mail.

Perch left the Mail to set up Select, a free, locally published magazine packed with posh, expensive advertising aimed at the middle class market. Three editions still ran in 1994. He used the profits to set up a newspaper but it was a flop.

After selling the Hull, Harrogate and Scarborough editions Perch returned to Derby to become deputy editor for a year. He then spent six months as editor at UK News, the main rival of the Press Association. On the day of his Norman Lamont resignation scoop he received a phone call offering him editorship of the Echo.

Perch says he was well paid, “more than most, certainly not what I’m worth. But I’ve got no gripes.” He drove his company Granada to work from his flat in Cardiff. His wife Jenny and children; Katie, then 7, and Amy, then 5, were still living in Derby. Working 70 hours or more a week and only saw his family on Sundays.

Perch’s favourite films are thrillers and he says he “doesn’t really like music” preferring instead to listen to audio books. But he’d rather be playing soccer. A self-confessed football fanatic, Perch has placed the game before his job and even skipped managerial meetings to watch the match. He is an avid Chelsea fan. Before Perch became editor of the Echo he used to play football at a senior level but subsequently only had time to play in the Sunday leagues in Derby and Thursdays in Cardiff. However he still found time to go on tour with his side to France in November 1993.

In August 1994 he launched the Newport and Cwmbran edition of the Echo. With the Cardiff based Echo’s sales hitting 100,000 copies a day and averaging 84,000 Perch decided that nearby Newport needed an alternative to the South Wales Argus. With declining sales of 38,000 daily less than a third of its market is buying it. By contrast the Echo was on the up, selling 15,000 more copies a day than the Western Mail, Wales’s national daily.

Perch puts his success down to his personal news philosophy. “The problem with newspapers is they’re all doom and gloom,” he says, “If there’s bad news we’ll cover it and we’re ten times as good at it.” However it is not the mainstay of his paper. On the last day of the Jamie Bulger trial the Echo ran the story front page along with everyone else but followed it with a feature on “Super Kids”, children who make the tea for old ladies because he wanted to show that most children are not murderers.

“All the newspapers do nothing but rape and violent crime,” says Perch, “People think ‘they’re not writing about the place I live in’.” He adds, “The difference is we reflect the community.” To improve local coverage he introduced the Saturday supplement Celebrations which featured local events. The Echo reintroduced silver and golden weddings, full obituaries, births and marriages because he says, “If there’s a wedding in the office people are talking about it for weeks.” Perch thinks the main problem with the other evening papers is “they’ve aped the nationals ‘don’t care’ attitude.”

One of Perch’s favourite headlines at the Echo was “Betrayed” on a front page piece about the closure of the last mine in Wales. It sums up what he’s about – telling the news from a local perspective. One thing that did not appear in Perch’s Echo were features on films and stars. Thomson provided a show business features service which their editors must subscribe to but Perch would not use articles on Tom Hanks and his ilk because it is not local news and not the reason people buy the paper.

In 1997 Perch returned to the Derby Evening Telegraph as editor, where he remained until 2001. He has now spent a decade at the helm of the Leicester Mercury.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Media, Profile

 

Profile: Chris Horrie

“I can’t stick musicians. I’ve thought about this. I can’t stand them, and being stuck in a studio with them I think that’s my strength I can hear what they can’t.” —Mark E. Smith

On a Monday morning in 1996 a figure resembling Columbo appears at the entrance to a dilapidated building in Back Hill, London, England. His clothes are crumpled and he has the same nervous air about him. He climbs the stairs and disappears into an office. He has not noticed the egg stain on his tie. In the evening he leaves, now bearing more than a passing resemblance to Bela Lugosi. This pattern continues for several days. On Friday he still hasn’t noticed the egg stain.

Christopher Horrie was born in Manchester in 1956 to working class parents. His father was a welder and his mother a school cleaner. He grew up in Gorsehill, Stretford, a stone’s throw away from Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. As a boy Horrie had always wanted to play for United and was good enough to be called to a number of try-outs for Berry Boys Youth Football Club. Unfortunately he broke both his shoulder bones during a game when he was 15 and that was the end of that.

Horrie first had to come to terms with defeat when he failed the eleven plus exam. He felt totally humiliated. “It remains one of the most vivid things in my life,” he says. The whole experience made him very competitive and insecure.

Later on Horrie joined the Manchester Musician’s Collective which produced bands such as the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. There he met Mark E. Smith and subsequently joined the Fall. “There was no sign we would ever be taken seriously,” he says. “The idea was to destroy rock‘n’roll and the music industry which is an evil thing.”

The main influence on The Fall was Iggy Pop. “It was a disaster for me because I’d spent years perfecting a Jimi Hendrix style,” says Horrie. Smith wanted more of a riotous noise. “I used to say things like ‘Why don’t we play a few Bob Dylan numbers’ and they’d look at me as if I was mad,” says Horrie. He left the band to go to college.

Horrie went to university to get away from home. He studied politics and economics at Warwick University because in 1975, when he was applying, there was a student protest and it was the first university protest in the UK where riot police were sent in. He was also under the misguided belief that Warwick was about as far away from Manchester as you could get.

Graduating in 1978 with a 2:1 Horrie began working as a freelance sub on a variety of publications including Offshore Engineer and Carpet Review Monthly. He once served as editor of CND’s Sanity magazine. In that role he doubled as public relations officer. He wanted to boil down the arguments for disarmament, such as ‘bases make targets’ but he fell out with CND over the Greenham Common protest. Originally there was no plan to set up a permanent camp and Horrie tried to persuade CND to disassociate itself from those ‘nutters’ who did. Joan Ruddock was in favour of the encampment and Horrie was allegedly finally sacked for calling her a ‘stupid cunt.’

Horrie has since written for every British national daily and Sunday newspaper, even the Guardian which he once described as “a hopelessly disorganised newspaper.” He has also worked extensively in television including a year on World in Action. He has written 14 books including Disaster! the Rise and Fall of News on SundayStick It Up Your Punter! the Rise and Fall of the SunWhat is Islam?Sick as a Parrot: the Inside Story of the Spurs Fiasco, and  Fuzzy Monsters: Fear and Loathing at the BBC.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Media, Profile

 

Timex Computer

“The things that made the most impact, I suppose, that I’m most fond of, were the home computers; the ZX80, the ZX81, and the Spectrum. The neatest really was the ZX81. The ZX80 had to be done on a very low budget so it had a lot of chips in it. The ZX81 only had four chips in the entire machine at a time when the world’s best competitor had 42.” —Sir Clive Sinclair

The 1970s saw the advent of cheap reliable digital watches made in the far east which caused the demise of all but one American watchmaker; Timex. Throughout the 1980s the company phased out mechanical watches in favour of digital, but it also had a sideline in making computers which came about as a result of Timex being selected as a manufacturing partner by Cambridge, England based company Sinclair Research for its new ZX81 computer.

Timex went on to sell its own domestic version of the machine as the TS1000. Meanwhile Sinclair was working on a successor to the ZX81, called the ZX Spectrum. In 1982, Lou Galie left the Burroughs Corporation to join Timex Computer lead the design and development of the Spectrum based TS2000.

“I was convinced Burroughs had no clue about what would be coming in the area of personal computers; Timex were on the leading edge of this revolution.”

By 1983 Timex had already sold over 600,000 TS1000s. In fact, long after it had left the computer market, Timex continued to sell TS1000 boards to a European commercial refrigeration manufacturer that used them as dedicated controllers.

“I don’t think the boards were manufactured after 1983 though, the orders were filled from inventory.”

The key decision makers were Timex Computer Corporation president Danny Ross, Timex executive vice-president Kirk Pond, and Timex vice-president of research and design Rex Naden who had joined from Texas Instruments.

“Rex argued that the opportunity in the personal computer market was huge and that Timex had product and software advantages over Coleco, Commodore, Atari, Tandy and TI.”

The Spectrum failed to meet FCC part 15 regulations on interference. Timex realized it had to modify the machine and began hiring a team of engineers, starting with Lou.

“Based on the products introduced at CES in early 1983, we decided we’d need something better than a patched-up Spectrum.”

The team was made up mainly of former Burroughs staff, recruited from the closing Danbury, Connecticut engineering group. The rest were local college graduates and a few staff from Timex’s Cupertino, California research facility. Two machines were to be developed; the TS1500, an update of the TS1000, and the TS2000, a complete redesign of the Spectrum.

“The TS1500 was finished in seven months. The TS2000 took eleven.”

Both machines were given a better keyboard, more memory, and a new operating system. The TS2000 also got joystick and cartridge ports, a feature more commonly found on consoles, an extended version of BASIC, and an sound chip. They were also slightly faster, to better synchronise with the NTSC television standard. Despite being able to run only a fraction of Spectrum software, the TS2000 was designed to be 100% backwards compatible.

“We made a special board which let us download a British tape program into memory on one of our ‘plug-in’ modules – and we tested a bunch of packages that way.”

The inclusion of cartridge support was entirely down to the problems the team encountered with loading from cassette.

“It never worked properly. We felt a simple ROM cartridge would solve the 1,001 problems we’d been having.”

The TS2068 also replaced the Spectrum’s logic chip, fixing various errors and adding new screen modes including high resolution, and multi-color. However, software rarely took advantage of these modes as they consumed twice as much memory as the standard one.

“These modes were planned for future follow-ons to the 2068. We had lots of plans for faster speed, better colour, real disk drives, and so on.”

A whole series of add-ons were planned that were never completed, including a ‘Bus Expansion Unit’ that would dramatically extend the machine.

“We had drawings and a simple prototype, nothing solid. But we had plans for a new chip to enable it to access 16MB of RAM.”

Timex bowed out of the US computer market due to the price war started by Commodore. Rumours persist that the unsold stock was dumped on the Argentinean market, and that somewhere there is a warehouse full of unopened original equipment.

“No. The situation was more complex than that. When we decided to exit the market we had hundreds of thousands of unsold units. We disposed of them in various ways, using many different outlets.”

Timex sold about 100,000 TS1500s and about 350,000 TS2068s, but this wasn’t the end of the machine. A modified version of the TS2068 was sold as the TC2068 by TMX Portugal, which went on to produce the FDD and FDD3000 disk interfaces, the TC2048, a cut-down TC2068 with better Spectrum compatibility, and the Unipolbrit 2086 for export to Poland. There was even a third generation prototype called the TC3256.

“We had a really smart Portuguese engineer called Al who was involved with our Timex-Sinclair hardware and software work. When we shut the Portuguese factory in the mid-1980s he went ‘on his own’ and continued work on the 3256. I think he actually built a few.”

Timex dabbled with computers again in 1994 with the Data Link watch that carried scheduling, phone numbers, and other personal information, teaming up with Microsoft to create the communications software. But the final fling was a joint venture with Motorola in 1998 called Beepwear, a wrist pager. After that the company went back to making watches.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Technology

 

Profile: Tom Lehrer

“Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” —Tom Lehrer

Songs & More Songs by Tom Lehrer reissued on the Rhino Records label

In a monologue preceding one of his songs Tom Lehrer once said: “I wonder how many people here tonight remember Hubert Humphry, he used to be a senator. Every now and then you read something about him in one of those ‘where are they now’ columns. This became quite an issue last winter at the time of Winston Churchill’s funeral when President Johnson was too ill to go and somebody suggested that he send Hubert. And he said ‘Hubert who?’” Now it seems it is ‘Tom who?’

Lehrer was an American satirical song writer who recorded 37 songs between 1953 and 1965, many of which were considered unfit to be played on the radio. He was considered the epitome of satirical bad taste. However, his three albums are still available in the United States and have sold over 1.8 million copies in total. Yet in Britain he seems in danger of being forgotten though in the ’60s playing one of his records at a late night party was considered a sure sign of intellectual maturity.

Lehrer hates to give interviews, “unless I’ve got something to plug” and tells journalists: “Make it up, you do that anyway don’t you?” adding: “It’s okay, I won’t sue.” And he still has that smooth voice that lulls you into a false sense of calm. Though he grew up in Manhattan he has spent most of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has lived in his present house there for over 30 years.

With titles such as Poisoning Pigeons In The Park, a song about the joys of spring, Lehrer has always appealed to something of a select audience. The New York Times said: “Mr. Lehrer’s muse (is) not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste” and the Evening Standard called him “obvious, jejune, and remarkably unsophisticated.” Lehrer says he has not been spoiled by this critical acclaim. Indeed he once remarked: “If, after hearing my songs just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

Speaking years ago on BBC Radio 4, Lehrer recalls a performance of a song he wrote about the boy scouts called Be Prepared: “I sang it in a night club and this marine came up afterwards, and speaking in his native language, Neanderthal, he said, ‘You shouldn’t make fun of the boy scouts, they’re the marines of tomorrow.’ And he was perfectly right.”

Between 1946 and June 1953 Lehrer was a teaching fellow in mathematics as a graduate student at Harvard University. During that time, if you believe the album notes, he “supplemented his meagre income by regaling local degenerates with songs of his own devising.” Lehrer never received his PhD, and would be a graduate student today “if it wasn’t for those silly rules.”

After spending two years in the army as an enlisted man, in 1957 Lehrer returned to academic life. However, having already released his first record, he found he was in demand for engagements in “hot, fetid, smoky, and uncomfortable” night clubs. At this time he also performed a number of one-man show in concert halls and theatres.

In 1960, after a four-month concert tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, he retired from performing and returned to academic life. Again he was brought out of musical retirement for NBC’s version of That Was The Week That Was, which he thought would be a perfect outlet for his musical work. He has since also appeared in Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark and Norway.

Lehrer gave up writing songs in the late ’60s saying: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. How do you top that?” But he was coaxed back to do some non-satirical songs for the Children’s Television Workshop, producers of Sesame Street. That was in 1972 for a programme called the Electric Company which was designed to teach children to read. “It’s always exciting to do something quite different.” says Lehrer.

After this brief ‘come back’ Lehrer went through a further revival in the ’80s with the launch of the London West End production Tomfoolery, a collection of some of his best known numbers performed by an all English cast. That show has since gone on to see nearly 200 productions around the world.

Ask his health, and he replies: “Actually this is a recording, I passed away some time ago.” It sounds like the record and for half a second you believe him. In a 1994 article in Harvard Magazine he said: “The main thing is my mind has deteriorated,” adding “Twenty-two years in California have turned my mind to Jell-O, imitation flavour at that. And my attention span has atrophied. I used to have a long attention span but it was shot off in the war.”

His albums are still available on compact disc from Warner’s Reprise label. They are Tom Lehrer Revisited (originally Songs by Tom Lehrer), An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, and That Was The Year That Was.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Entertainment, Politics, Profile