Many Pies

Many Pies

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The BBC Micro and me

BBC Micro
A couple of weeks ago Charles Arthur, the technology correspondent for The Guardian asked on twitter
So who is there out there whose experience with the BBC Micro led them to achieve something notable in the computing business?
I responded as we had a BBC Micro at school which I used in the sixth form. I gave him some details, but he was looking for someone who, if it hadn't been for the BBC Micro, wouldn't have got into computers. I wanted to be a programmer from aged 11 and we had a Spectrum at home, so that didn't apply to me and he didn't use my story in the article that he wrote on it. I paid for my driving lessons with the money I made on games I wrote for the Spectrum (and probably the BBC) and sold to magazines.

In our correspondence he asked
And do you think that kids today have enough access to that sort of programming, or do they need a "new Micro" to inspire them?
I replied:
Kids today have access to a wide range of free programming environments via the internet. If I were to start doing games today I'd be using a physics/gaming engine to do the heavy lifting, and aiming to get my stuff on miniclip or in an app store. Angry Birds is probably the thing that inspires them.
So I'm not sure any new type of hardware is needed. Today the BBC ran this story about a new curriculum for ICT.
Computer games entrepreneur Ian Livingstone, an adviser to Mr Gove, envisages a new curriculum that could have 16-year-olds creating their own apps for smartphones and 18-year-olds able to write their own simple programming language.
So I guess they agree with me!

I also recently came across this petition on the UK Government petitions website "Teach our kids to code". I don't like the way it uses the word "coding" which is a bit of jargon which could be better expressed as "programming". It also seems a bit unnecessary now in the light of that BBC story.

Photo from Rain Rabbit.


Anonymous said...

I was a TI99/4A kid, and I bought it after I'd started work. Stent many hours trying to get it to do things, and did submit a version of Destroyer to a magazine. They turned it down. My programming life then when on hold for a good 10 years, when I managed to find a route to doing it for a living.

Anonymous said...

I think what we have lost is the awesome feeling of understanding everything about how a system works. In the days of the BBC Micro, that was possible. Nowadays, not so much.

That's one of the reasons I'm so excited about the Raspberry Pi

Paul Morriss said...

I'm excited about RaspberryPi too, and I said so in my email to Charles. I didn't quote it because I'd already blogged about it.

I think you've hit it on a key point though. Although you can take a PC apart and peer at the bits, you're not going to want to do that with a smartphone (not if you want it to work again afterwards), whereas you can see everything exposed in an R-Pi.

David & Julie Rowbory said...

I'm a programmer now because of the BBC (a model B in my case). I was probably cut out for it, but the excellent manual and the fact mentioned above that you could describe everything about how the system worked, made it a much easier environment for learning programming. The major benefit of the BBC was its procedural programming language which started to instil good modular coding even if there was no real notion of type safety. It easily facilitated assembler coding too as a gentle progression from BBC BASIC. There's tons of choice and tons of complexity nowadays. That makes it hard to know where to start, but actually gives many 'good' places to start. To be honest I'd start with some simple text-processing languages such as python or php nowadays and also structured description languages such as HTML which then blend together quite well into something you can immediately use.

Paul Morriss said...

Good comments David.