• 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:

  • More Classical Music app weirdness

    Having endured Apple Music since it started, begrudgingly paying an annual subscription mostly because it is no worse than any of the other streaming services, I was hopeful that the Apple Music Classical app might be an improvement. Alas what we have so far has left me somewhere between annoyed and angry.

    What is classical music? According to Apple..

    Does Apple Music Classical feature other types of music?
    No. Apple Music Classical is completely focused on classical music.


    But as Kirk McElhearn points out in his extensive and more positive review there are endless examples of music that one would not normally class as classical. The common denominator seems to be that the composer has had a piece of their music performed by an orchestra or ensemble thus appearing to be leaning towards some form of classical style of music. One of McElhearn’s examples is Robert Fripp “whose music is about as far from classical as could be”

    The inclusion of Fripp seems to hang on an interpretation of a section of Fracture from Starless And Bible Black by the guitarist Alberto Mesirca and a rendition by the Japanese Trouvère Quartet of 21st Century Schizoid Man.

    From there we fall down the bizarre rabbit hole of Apple’s Music search algorithm which is so fuzzy it is often nigh impossible to determine why something has been included in the results. Fripp has twenty four albums listed in the Classical app. These range from his own albums to collaborations with Brian Eno to David Bowie’s greatest hits via Wagner and Stravinsky. The Wagner includes Robert Heger and, separately, The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus, The Stravinsky, recorded in 1962 while teenage Fripp was concentrating on school examinations, similarly, I can only assume, is included because it was conducted by Robert Craft and features Paul Tripp 🤷‍♂️

    So Classical = not Classical. Perhaps Serious would be a better descriptor – music created to be listened to rather than a product to be marketed and sold to specific demographic. As Duke Ellington once observed:

    There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind … the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good it’s successful; if it doesn’t it has failed.

    Duke Ellington: Where Is Jazz Going? Music Journal; New York Vol. 20, Iss. 3,  (Mar 1, 1962)

    There are two kinds of Music app – the good Music app and the other kind….

    Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. 

    Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing, Wired Feb 1, 1996

  • Apple’s Classical Music App 🤬

    I think I actually blushed on opening Apple’s Classical Music app. It is an iPhone app but the App Store assured me it works on my iPad. I have lots of iPhone apps on my iPad. They all work fine.

    Who would not think it a good idea to have the text mingling with the Play and Browse buttons?

    And is Ludwig van Beethoven really On This Album?

    And did Frank Zappa write Bolero?

    And is the third section not iii or III rather than Iii? At least they managed to get Elaine Radigue right…

    ….oh cancel that! Why is there no simple way to report such errors like there is on Apple Maps?

    Let’s hope version 2 is not too far away and it makes some improvements… but I am not holding my breath.

  • The sounds of the city

    The micro.blog March photo challenge provides a word as a prompt to inspire the images for that day. Today’s prompt was Early. So as I was awake anyway I recorded the chorus of birds:

    Those more able to identify the birds than I may care to compare with this recording from April 2018:

    At least we are no longer disturbed by the May 2021 woodpecker hammering away at 5am:

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