Hello and Happy New Year!

By | January 1, 2012
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In the Computers newsletter this time:
  • Happy New Year
  • Answers to the Christmas Quiz (and the stories behind them)
  • Back to normal next time
Hello and Happy New Year!

Morning! Hope everyone’s bright and breezy early on this New Year’s day. What’s that? You’re feeling a bit tired? Maybe didn’t sleep too much last night? Me too – Alastair does like to keep me awake, at least I’ll blame it on him!

But I’d planned ahead and written the below in advance, so I don’t have to sit at a keyboard all morning writing this… here we go:

Last time I gave a short Christmas quiz. I mentioned that I didn’t expect anyone to know all the answers – it’s more the kind of quiz where you have to make an educated guess. And several of the questions have peculiar stories behind them – so here you go!

1 – What 1980s computer company could claim its computer was used to run a 22nd century intergalactic cargo ship?
The answer is Acorn. At the time, Sinclair were advertising their computer as being able to run a nuclear power station. Then when the TV series “Blake’s 7” appeared, they’d used an Acorn computer as the controller for their spaceship – so Acorn could say “That’s nothing, ours can control a 22nd century intergalactic cargo ship”!

2 – Which famous British poet’s offspring wrote what’s often considered the first ever book on computer programming?
Lord Byron. His illegitimate daughter Ada Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage, who designed some mechanical computers. Ada developed techniques for programming them and wrote it all up in a book. One of the first programming languages was named Ada in her honour.

3 – What company built the first ever computer for business use?
Lyon’s Corner Houses – see this newsletter /NL151111.htm.

4 – Acorn was one of the first companies in the UK to offer a computer for sale to ordinary people (as opposed to businesses or universities) – it had a keypad and everything. But it was based on something the designer had previously created as a commission. 
It was an automatic cow feeder. She didn’t have the facilities to actually test what she’d created, so she wrote it out, checked it and sent it to the company untested. It worked perfectly. (Maybe Microsoft could do with her working for them now…)

5 – Bill Gates (who set up Microsoft) started young – he wrote a program for his school to automatically schedule classes for them. What “extra feature” did he add in?
Something to put him in classes with mostly girls. These techies will try anything to become popular with girls. His next approach was to become a billionaire…

6 – Steve Jobs (who set up Apple Computers) dropped out of University. But which course did he credit with being a huge influence on Mac computers?
Calligraphy. His Mac computer was the first computer that had different fonts and different spacing between the letters so there aren’t gaps around (say) the letter I. Previously all letters had had the same space, so a letter I had the same space as a letter m, like on a typewriter.

7 – Before electronic computers, there were mechanical calculators and computers. When was the first one (that could actually work) designed?
The 1640s. A chap called Blaise Pascal (of “Pascal’s triangle” fame if you remember back to school maths) not only designed it, but built a few. He built the first one at the age of 19, to help his Dad do his tax calculations.

8 – The programming language “C” was called that because: 
It was the third attempt (ie A, B, C). Sometimes programmers come up with respectful names (like naming a language in honour of Ada Lovelace – in fact there’s another named in honour of Pascal). Sometimes the names they invent are, well, boring. C is one of the boring ones. Not as bad as “programming language 1” which would have been a better name if it hadn’t been invented a decade or so after the first languages…

9 – The ZX 80 was one of the first full computers sold for under £100. But to make it that cheap, Clive Sinclair had to cut back in several ways – it couldn’t display colour and could only handle whole numbers. But what on the case was completely fake, just to look more stylish?
It was the air vents – they were just stickers. I’m not sure why air vents were supposed to look good – more like an expensive, top end piece of equipment, I suppose. But it worked – they sold hundreds of thousands of them.

10 – Tie breaker: How many times more memory does the PC I’m writing this on have compared with the first computer I used? 
1,198,373 times – over a million times more memory. Pretty staggering.

I nearly included a question about how old Alastair was before he managed to do something on a computer that I didn’t know how to do – it happened a couple of weeks ago (so he was 16 months old). I was working away, he tottered over, reached out, pressed some buttons before I could stop him and lo and behold he’d done something I wanted to be able to do but didn’t know you could. The only snag was it took me half an hour to work out exactly which buttons he’d pressed… Still, good to know he’s comfortable with modern technology…

Hope everyone had fun with the quiz – it was something a bit different but even if you didn’t guess many of the answers, I hope you found the stories behind them interesting! We’ll be back to a more normal issue next time.

Since I’ve now given out the answers, I’ve now closed entries to the quiz, but it’ll take us a little while to count up everyone’s scores – I think I’ll put that off for today! Once we’ve checked, I’ll email the winner so the lucky person can choose the prize!

Have a great New Year’s day!

Tim Wakeling
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