Friday, December 19, 2008

Welcome to Thoughts on Information Technology

First of all the URL 380z.blogspot.com. Why 380z? Well first of all coming (relatively) late to setting up a Blog a whole load of URLs have gone. I was looking for a URL prefix that'd be appropriate for an IT Blog, something to do with Computing history, e.g. bootstrap, turing, cpu.

In the end I delved into my own personal 'Computing history' and looked back to the first Computer I got my hands on - a Research Machines 380z. I was pretty lucky going to a school that (i) had a Computer at that time (we're talking late 70's here) and (ii) allowed access to pupils.

This got me all nostalgic for the 380z and, of course, got me Googling for it. A couple of good articles about the 380Z can be found at vt100.net and old-computers.com By modern day standards of course, the 380z was primitive. We didn't have the luxury of 'diskettes' and had to boot the OS from cassette! That was a pretty haphazard arrangement, you had to fiddle with the volume and tone control on the cassette deck to get the OS to boot!

One of the comment entries on old-computers.com reminded me of one of the cool features of the 380z. You could halt the machine to go back to the Bootstrap ROM, 'fiddle' around with settings and then return to your program where you left off. Try doing that with rebooting a modern PC!

BASIC was the main language available for the 380z, apart from the 'true geeks' who could write in Z80 assembler. If I remember rightly, all my attempts to write Z80 code ended in the machine horribly crashing, sometimes to such an extent that even the big white reset button wouldn't get me out of it. So I generally stuck to BASIC.

My first real program was a game I called 'Shoot the Rapids'. The 380Z had a very basic graphics capability though an extended ASCII character set. You could generate different shaped blocks, which, when assembled in the right sort of order, got you pixels. Obviously I'm not talking XBOX 360 resolutions here. The game was a vertical scroller where you controlled a canoe going down, you guessed it, the rapids. As you progressed, the rapids got narrower with more rocks. The longer you lasted, the greater your score. May be I should write a new version for the XBOX 360 using Microsoft XNA?

Going back to the 380Z Googling effort, the most bizzare thing I came across was a 380Z BASIC Programming Guide available on Amazon of all places, a snip I thought at £272! Second hand, obviously.

Thinking about my experiences back then on the 380z is the inspiration for this Blog. Computing back then was still fairly in the pioneer stages, just at the start of the hobbyist computing revolution with likes of the Altair. Which, if my computing industry knowledge is correct, is the platform that got good old Bill Gates and Paul Allen of the ground with Microsoft with a version of BASIC.

So, that's that then 380z.blogspot.com it is.

1 comment:

Vincent Murphy said...

I saw your contribution on OLD-COMPUTERS.COM. I absolutely adored the 380z. It was way ahead of its time and I wrote a project of Assembly programming on it in 1986. Talking of books - I bought one called "Programming the z80 Under CP/M by a guy called Yeung. Sadly it was thrown out to my horror, it's very hard to get hold of now. These days I'm using C#, MVC Java Script - somehow not nearly as exciting as the old days of the wonderful RML 380z ! Great blog by the way. Vincent Murphy

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