My first and (probably) my last computers

A newspaper advertisement in 1980 claimed I could own a computer for less than £100. I was not sure what a computer was or what it could do but who could resist such powerful marketing? So I cut out and filled in the coupon and posted it off with my cheque – how quaint this all sounds today.

What came back was a Sinclair ZX80. I was hooked. Whilst it did not do very much – the single digit MHz processor chugged along turning off the video display whilst it worked, and the 1 KB of memory (someone may need to explain these numbers to younger readers) imposed its own limits – the idea of programming a logical sequence of instructions was fascinating. You could attach a portable cassette recorder and save your creations on to a cassette. These could be then be loaded back into the computer – if you did not jiggle the connecting wire or the cassette tape was not too worn or the wind was not blowing from the east and you were wearing your lucky socks. I added a 16KB expansion pack which allowed for ever greater creations. I avidly read the growing number of computing magazines that were appearing and any books I could find. The magazines would often include a listing of a program (to this day I resent the American spelling of program – if you are a programmer programming a programmable computer the end result should be a programme!) which you could type into your own computer or adapt so it would run on your computer. One such listing was a program that calculated your travelling time when cruising between the locks on the river Thames. That was not something I was ever going to do but the coding was so well written, so clear and concise, it was possible to learn most of what you needed to know from that single listing. Alas I have no idea who the author was but from then on coding was poetry.

I moved on to a Sharp MZ 80K which had a built in screen and cassette recorder. It could also play sound. It was quite loud and there was no discernible way to reduce the volume. With a pillow wedged against the speaker to muffle the sound I phoned the retailer who explained that the volume control was inside. So unscrewing the top half from the bottom half allowed the hinged top to be lifted revealing the volume and brightness knobs. This computer used a very similar character set (think chunky graphic blocks) as the increasingly popular Commodore PET and so one could easily adapt the magazine’s program listings. There were a range of programming languages available for it ranging from Pascal to Assemblers. There was a Sharp Users Group that sent out booklets with news and programming listings etc. This is from the December 1982 issue:

We also had a short lived local computer club where people could enthuse about their favourite computer (of which there were many) and why it was better than the others. Personal computers were more personal then – quirky and idiosyncratic.

By the end of the 1980s I had progressed to an Amiga 500 which was a delightful computer. I fitted a hard drive which provided a vast 40 MB of storage space – that could store ten or twelve photos from your phone today. The computer always required a second restart as it failed to see the hard drive on its initial start up. I wrote some programs that I sent off on a floppy disc to a Public Domain library who would distribute them for free – which meant you sent them money to cover the cost of the floppy disc and postage; some libraries were better at accurately calculating these costs than others. Some of my creations were favourably reviewed in magazines. Alas the managerial manoeuvrings sealed the fate of the once popular Amigas ultimately leading to bankruptcy – this scenario may sound familiar to Twitter users today.

The salesman tried to convince me that Windows 3.0 was the future. I smiled politely and bought a Mac. I had never seen the appeal of the IBM PC or the subsequent clones and compatible variations. They did not bounce and delight like other computers. The Mac was running System 6 which would soon be updated to System 7 – operating system updates were provided on the CDs that came with computer magazines by then. These free OS updates stopped with Apple’s financial woes in the mid 1990s and Mac OS 8 and 9 had to be purchased. Apple would then move on to the Unix system OS X. I am often puzzled why people abandon a real Unix system for a pretend one.

And now there is a Mac mini with an M2 Processor which certainly bounces and delights – probably the best computer I have ever had and probably the last one too.

Whilst people rightly celebrate the longevity of the Mac it is, with its numerous changes in processors and operating system over the years, what we in the UK would call a bit Trigger’s Broom – see Ship of Theseus:

The Vanquis App Disaster

It is not clear what has happened with the Vanquis app and they are certainly not going to admit to anything untoward. I have an image of a disgruntled employee handing in their notice and hitting the delete button on the way out. Whatever it is it is amusing to sit back and watch; but I have a zero balance – it will be considerably less amusing and more frustrating for users who actually need to use the app to make payments etc.

The average banking type app gets four or five reviews a day. The Vanquis app gets around fifty five star reviews every day. These are clearly fake reviews and are there to drown out the one star reviews from frustrated users. Several of the one star actual users have commented on the fake reviews and ask that they be reported to Apple. I have done so but what Apple could or would do remains to be seen. Who would not take time out of their day to say something was “Easy to use”?

Fake five star reviews of the Vanquis app

Well Mr Christopher Johnson (or the less than BrillentAJ) for one and anyone else who was not be paid to do so. Of course there will be the inevitable glitch and user 260446 failed to read the instructions and gave their “Easy to use” review a one star rating.

Mostly real one star reviews of the Vanquis app.

Although the app (and web site) was broken before the recent update to iOS 16 many users noticed it after updating and so attributed the malfunctioning to the iOS update but there is a wave of frustrated users on Android devices too which suggests the problem is systemic at the Vanquis end rather than on individual devices.

Android reviews of the Vanquis app

But, let us whisper it, the Internet was not designed to do any of this stuff and so you have layers of complexity added to it to give the illusion of usability and security when a peak behind the curtain reveals the whole thing is cobbled together with bits of string and blu-tack and can start to fall apart at any moment. That message from your bank about their online services not being available overnight due to important maintenance should say “we have found yet another hole large enough to drive a bus through and are frantically trying to patch it before anyone notices”.

At least it is not as bad as all the crypto/web 3 nonsense. Even Safe Hands Sunak could not resist joining the imbecilic gold rush.

Farewell Minecraft

I don’t play games much but I have had a Minecraft account for many years without any problems. After Microsoft took over Minecraft I put off moving to a Microsoft account for as long as possible – fearing the worse. Once the day came and they insisted I moved to the dark side it was as bad as it could possibly be. Anyone else would just move the Minecraft account details but being Microsoft to get from A to B you have to go via C and F having ticked boxes D and E on the way.

Having successfully moved the account I did manage to use it once. But attempting to log in to the new account today for the second time I am greeted by:

To which the obvious solution is to give up, close the account and move on vowing never to touch anything bearing the Microsoft name again. But this is Microsoft so even closing the account becomes a labyrinthian chore which is going to take some time.

It is the inability to access the account as usual which is the problem. But this being Microsoft they are able to utilise their full computing power and will get back to you in thirty days. Bizarre.

Restoring sounds to the iPad via memory lane.

I was confused as to why the iPad would play music and the sound on videos but fell silent while playing games. I eventually realised it was in Silent Mode. Swipe down from the top right corner to open the Control Centre and tap the Bell icon to toggle Silent Mode on and off.

Best of all – this also restored sound to the wonderful SoundForest app which had been silent for a while. Created by Justin Alexander it seems to have been abandoned but still functions on the latest devices.

Many (many!) years ago I wrote a little thing for the Amiga called Beat Sheets which triggered brief sound samples. It was part of a series I created for children called Kids Disk, which were distributed on floppy discs for free from Public Domain libraries via snail mail. It was written with AMOS, which was pretty fancy for the time, probably in 512 kilobytes of memory. I did add a hard drive to the Amiga at some point which added 20 megabytes of storage – which I described at the time as “like having a vast empty warehouse to store stuff”; for context the SoundForest video below is 155 megabytes.

Lo and behold (isn’t the Internet wonderful?) someone had a video of Beat Sheets in action which they seemed to be running in an Amiga emulator…

Beat Sheets on the Amiga 1993

Fast forward several decades and SoundForest is a far more sophisticated app, downloaded from the App Store and running on a hand held device with a terabyte of memory. It follows the same idea of tapping sound samples into a grid. You can extend your song by swiping to the left for a fresh sheet. Tapping the top bar stops and starts the player and double tapping changes the speed. Different sounds are available in the various environments – jungle, desert, ocean etc. Great fun.

The Reset

Over the years the old Mac had become such a tangled mess (the oldest file dates back to 2009) and iCloud Drive had become inaccessible from the Finder which insisted I needed to log in although everywhere else insisted I was logged in, and everything was working normally, but System Preferences refused to let me log out. Having tried killing birds and all manner of Terminal artfulness which failed to change anything I decided to just set up a new account and move into that. Alas this meant finding all the Serial numbers/licences for a lot of apps etc. Most seem to working now but I am sure something will turn up and refuse to work. Have made a fresh Time Machine and will try and keeps things better organised until the new iMac’s arrive.

Have reduced the web site to a minimalist HTML site because that is all it needs to be. Yes you could make a case for a little CSS design but we will live with it for a while. Have removed the Indie Web stuff from this blog as I was not using it and had no real interest in doing so; similarly the link to is gone as I do not do the social/interaction thing so derived nothing from it – as excellent as these projects are and worth supporting if that is your thing. At some point I will develop my own theme for this blog.


More Apple weirdness

Amphetamine is one of those neat little things that sits in your menu bar and does something useful and does it well.  It keeps your Mac awake for as long as you need. Hence the name.


Apple claims that it will lead users to start consuming drugs and alcohol but I have been using it for years and do not consume drugs or alcohol.   Perhaps Apple may be mistaken in their silly assessment.

Curiously asking the iPad to Look Up Amphetamine it suggests the app (and a film)…


You can sign a petition to support the developer. If you own the app you can give the app a 5 star rating on the App Store if not you can get it from the App Store. It’s free.

Mac Bravery

And so here we are again. With a new MacOS version imminent I contemplate erasing the hard drive and starting afresh – again. Alas I have not been brave enough to do it for many years and so a new version just updates the old version amidst all the accumulated crud. And when I occasionally buy a new computer the hard drive size will be enormous compared to the old one so everything gets copied over, because there is so much space in there, and we carry on. The oldest file on here dates back to 2007.

How many versions of GHC does a chap need?

ghc versions

But this is a whole new era and we are moving from iterations of macOS 10 to the all new and shiny macOS 11 and so I will definitely be doing it this time. Deep down I know that something is going to get screwed up – like that account for something or other that I use daily and set up 10 years ago which will now require a password which I will not have saved anywhere – or more frustratingly I will have saved it but cannot now find it anywhere.

I did a full back up yesterday and a mere 13 hours later it had copied all of the 4.5 million files.. did I mention the crud?

So I am planning on using a blank partition on an external drive and booting from that with a fresh install to see what happens and if I can produce a functioning system. If that works then the big red ERASE-AT-YOUR-PERIL button will be clicked and we will be crud free – for at least a week.

Blog tweaking

The current SemPress theme places the Header image between the title and the start of the articles…

…which may be what was intended but I wanted it behind the title text so it was time to do some more CSS tweaking. Having moved the image I coloured the text from the cloud’s colours, used the darker blue corner of the sky both as a shadow under the title and as the background colour behind the articles. I rounded the corners of some images and the article’s panels.

Of course the moved image was screwed up on smaller screens so it is no longer shown on mobile devices – although some tablets will show it in landscape mode but not in portrait mode.

The amendments, which override the default CSS, now look like this:

As I’m sure there will be more to come I leave this here as an Aide-mémoire.

Yadit #100DaysToOffload

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