The outer limits of vintage tech uncovered

The outer limits of vintage tech uncovered

Summary: The return of the Amiga and a rare sighting of an Acorn laptop are here in a look at the more unusual tech at the UK's first Vintage Computer Festival

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Another company that fused engineering smarts with marketing fruitbattery was Acorn Computers, which never recovered from having a huge success with the BBC Micro. It thrashed about wildly with monstrous concepts such as the ABC — Acorn Business Computer — examples of which are exceedingly rare, although Bletchley Park has a couple in its back rooms.

    Acorn did spawn the ARM chip, which became successful after it left the control of the company. Before that, it found itself making computers such as this 1992 Acorn A4, the company's only portable. The A4 had business packages in ROM, a 24MHz ARM 3 chip, a price tag twice that of PC-based equivalents, and no sales to speak of. Brought out in the same month as Apple's Newton, also ARM-based, the A4 is a dead-end branch of a successful evolutionary tree.

  • The urge to 'be professional' led to many mutations. The PBS Executive IV is executive because it's built into a briefcase.

    This, however, cannot disguise its true nature, which is a Spectrum+ with thermal printer and Microdrive storage: without a display, it is not entirely clear how it was supposed to work. Nothing else is known of this odd creation, hence the plaintive sign: if you know of (or even better are) the mystery PBS, let us know and we'll make a Spectrum collector a very happy man.

  • It would have been possible to compose an entertaining photostory about the Vintage Computer Festival at Bletchley Park without including a single shot of a computer, purely by documenting the ferociously varied and quite extraordinary mixture of people who came along. Here, we see one of the very rare sightings outside San Francisco of an extreme geek garment, the Utility Kilt — essentially, a dress with pockets worn by those either very comfortable with their sexuality or quite unaware that it exists.

    The only other tribe who have taken to this admittedly practical and well-ventilated form of male attire are those connected with subgenres of the Death Metal/Goth Punker scene. However, we feel confident that our mature, bespectacled model is not a camp follower of Alkaline Trio but more concerned with interrupt latencies on the S100 bus.

    ZDNet UK says: Bravo, sir!

Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • There was a machine far more complicated than that at British Leyland, Longbridge, Birmingham, England It was the so-called Data Sender and who ever had built it must have been a genius on uni-selectors, teleprinter code and teleprinters. Cold valves were used to generate teleprinter letter codes A, B, C and so on. There was a button panel in the assembly line office and the buttons could invoke pre-set words such as "Highline", "Lowline", "Austin", "Rover", "Morris" and so on. The relays would click, the uni-selectors would whir and the teleprinter, which was in a heavy armoured case, would produce the build labels on the assembly line. (the printer had to be protected from vandalism because some workers didn't like the job cards it produced!) As far as I know each word was made by wiring up individual letters to a uniselector and as it stepped around the words were printed out. Uniselectors used to have 36 positions I think so this was ample for normal length words. The machine would have dated from the 1950s I expect and it was rather troublesome chiefly because the operator would sometimes manage to get an illegal number of buttons engaged at once. Sometimes when a brand was discontinued the operator would tear-off the button and put tape over the hole. This was a Very Bad Idea.