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My very, very first computer is back!

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 29 September 2015 | Category: The old days

It was back in 2011 that I wrote a blog about my first computer. You can still read it here.

However, that wasn’t actually my first computer. It was my first business computer but the first one I had was a birthday present from Mrs H back in 1983 and it was the famous Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

It was my first introduction to programming and as well as using BASIC I also got into the high-end machine code with the help of the brick-sized Z80 programming manual and the Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly. Looking back I was a bit of a geek!

The Spectrum is still up in the loft somewhere but it was brought to mind again this week when I saw that a company had brought out a new version complete with wireless keyboard, Bluetooth technology and the ability to be used with any device.

You can see some gents waxing lyrical about the device in the video.

So if the 80s geek in you craves a bit of nostalgia, grab yourself the new ZX Spectrum for just £84.99. (Mine cost £180 in 1983, equivalent to £570 today!).



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My first PC and some interesting and silly numbers

In the old days... PowerPoint was what you plugged stuff into

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 04 July 2013 | Category: The old days

I’m going off piste and away from my usual web-related articles with this latest blog post to ramble off down Memory Lane for a little while.

I love all things digital and I’ve been in the creative industries all my life and seen how every aspect of this sort of work has evolved rapidly from the old analogue / manual methods to the new, sleek digital implementations. You name it, it’s now digital – presentations, photography, video, printing, publishing, music, radio, TV and so on.

And I for one am happy with this. I don’t long for the days when you had to thread a piece of sprocketed film into the back of a camera or to my old photo lab days when my hands were immersed in all manner of dermatologically dubious chemical solutions. Nowadays you just whip out the smartphone and Bob’s your uncle.

Whilst I’m not that old, it’s surprising the reaction you get from people who have only known digital (aka young people) when you tell them about how things were done back then. (Don’t call them the ‘old days’ or you’ll get a slap!)

Take for example the humble slide. These days if you want to produce a white on blue slide, you simply open PowerPoint, type in the title and text, save it and you’re done. It takes less than 5 minutes. Do you want to know how we used to do it? Of course you do! Let’s jump in a time machine and go back 30 years.

First of all you’d have to produce artwork. This was done by transferring Letraset letters onto white board. If you made a typo, you’d have to scrape off the letters with a scalpel and do them again.

The artwork was then placed under a rostrum camera and photographed using high contrast 35mm lith film. The lith film was then processed which produced a resulting negative with white text on a black background. This would then be retouched with black retouching fluid to get rid of any white ‘pinholes’.

The rostrum camera was then loaded with 35mm colour transparency film. Below the camera was a light box with three dial in filters of yellow, magenta and cyan. The magenta and cyan filters would be dialled up to the top to produce a blue light and this would be photographed on the rostrum camera. You’d shoot as many frames as you needed based on the number of slides you were producing. Then the film in the rostrum camera would be wound back to the start and the lith negative placed on the light box with all of the colours dialled out, therefore giving a white light. The white text would be exposed over the blue background that had already been shot on the colour film. There would be a separate lith neg for each slide and these would be shot in turn.

Rostrum camera

The colour transparency film would then have to be processed. When it was returned, each slide would be cut out, brushed or blown clean and mounted in a slide mount. There, job done!

Of course, if you wanted lots of colours on a slide, the process was even more complex and so I won’t go into that.

It was all a bit different from the way we do things now. But there are two things you can say about doing things the old way. Firstly, it makes you appreciate how much simpler and cleaner things are today and secondly it gives you a strong foundation. Much of what we did then is still very relevant today even if the methods are very different.

My first PC and some interesting and silly numbers

Blog post written by Dave Henson | 08 August 2011 | Category: The old days

The speed that technology moves nowadays is amazing. Smartphones would have been looked upon almost as magic only a decade ago (in fact I still think there is some sort of enchantment going on!).

Now, I'm old enough to remember when things were not quite as high tech as they are today, although at the time of course, what we had was leading edge. My first business which I started in 1986, produced 35mm slides for business presentations - thousands of them! Clients would fax us a hand-drawn brief and we would use a state-of-the-art computer graphics system to draw the slides on-screen and then send them by modem to an imaging company who would produce the slides and send them back to us by courier. (Later we would get our own imaging system at a cost of £40,000).

The system we used was made by a company called Autographix and it used an Apple IIe as its main computer allied to a graphics box which was the size of a large desktop computer. The Apple had no hard disk, just 3 x 5¼ inch floppy disk drives, two that were responsible for the system and one that stored the files we were producing. Each disk had a capacity of 360Kb. You would need 22,000 of these to store everything on my phone.

There were two fonts available, one serif and one sans-serif, in a choice of 6 sizes and the colour palette consisted of 64 colours. When you typed text on the screen a rectangle would appear to show where the text was going to be placed.

The modem that we used to send the files to the imaging centre ran at a speed of 300 bits per second. Today's broadband speeds of 10Mbits per second are therefore over 33,000 times faster than my old modem. To have sent a typical MP3 file on that modem would have meant hanging around for 29½ hours.

Where the numbers really get silly though is when we start talking about costs, especially if we talk about a cost / storage ratio. This first system cost me £7,500. That's £20,833 per megabyte of storage. A 64Gb iPad 2 today typically costs about £559. That's 0.87 pence per megabyte of storage. That means that my first system was 2,394,635 times more expensive than an iPad 2! Or, if you want to get into real fantasy land, a system with the storage of an iPad in 1986 would have cost just under £18 billion and that doesn't include inflation!