My BBC Micro and Me

The BBC Microcomputer is 30 years old. The BBC News web site had an article about it but from the article you would think that only males benefited from it. Well it wasn’t just the boys who had fun with them! (Photo © Anachrocomputer)Maker Faire 2010: BBC Micro with Ethernet ©Anachrocomputer

The first computer in the house was my father’s. It was a TRS-80 Model 1. He had bought it to learn computing and because he realised computers were the future. I used it a lot learning to program in the BASIC language and then in Z80 assembly language (the language of the
microprocessor that ran the computer).

I was also interested in electronics (thanks to my Uncle who taught it in schools) and around the same time I saw an advertisement for the
Acorn Atom in an electronics magazine and I wanted one. I started saving but the BBC Microcomputer (“The Beeb”) came out before I could afford one. My Parents offered to help buy a Beeb by way of multiple combined Birthday and Christmas presents and the deal I would not use it until after my ‘O’ levels which I mainly complied with. I remember the excitement of going in to the store to purchase my Beeb.

I learnt to program that machine from top to bottom. I had the reference manuals and the data sheets for all the chips. I loved how you got the full circuit diagram with the Advanced User Guide (it was a print of the one hand drawn by Acorn). I learnt BBC BASIC and 6502 assembly language. I learnt how to add to the operating system and how to do clever things by directly programming the chips in the machine. It taught me a lot about programming, such as interrupts, concurrency, race conditions, dead and live locks, and so on. Programming did become my first love and superseded electronics but I wouldn’t be the programmer I am today with out it!

I didn’t just program. I did play games with my favourites being Chuckie Egg and Elite! Elite was a complete time sink. No game following sucked me in as much as Elite did until World of Warcraft!

I didn’t completely give up on electronics and would develope small projects to connect to my Beeb. In the mid 80s I was studying for a Physics degree and naturally I used my Beeb. My final year project was based around the automation of an experiment. I designed hardware to drive the equipment, sensors and hardware to read data, and wrote software to drive it all from a Beeb.

In 1989 I got an Acorn A3000. It was the successor to the Beeb and also used in schools. It had the Acorn designed ARM processor (now used in nearly everything from a mobile phone to the iPad, set top boxes and televisions), what seemed like copious amounts of memory, loads of colours and a built in disk drive. It had BBC BASIC so I was at home and also taught me to program ARM assembly language (which I still use today). So the Beeb was basically retired.

I moved on to other machines, developing for Linux, higher degrees and becoming a research assistant but I never lost my love of my Beeb though and I still own mine almost 30 years after I bought it. I also still make projects for it. The most recent being an ethernet interface so that I can connect it to the internet.

I am now an embedded software consultant and I work for a company that was formed by employees of the company that bought Acorn Computers when it finally ended in 1999. My most recent project was optimising Linux on a device with an ARM processor. And my entire career is down to me and my Parents buying that Beeb 30 years ago!

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One Response to “My BBC Micro and Me”

  1. RolyRetro Says:

    I also learned the programming ropes on a BBC micro, and lost several months to Elite. I went to Uni to study Computing and am now running an IT firm employing 350 people, so the Beeb has a lot to answer for.

    Bring on the Raspberry Pi!

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