Wednesday, 15 December 2010

BCS - Retro computing

Most IT staff work in fairly small groups; even in the larger companies, teams break down into groups of just a few people. As a result, it's easy for people to develop a "silo" mentality, and forget that there is a larger world out there.

For that reason, I like to try to get to various events where there is an opportunity to speak to others within the profession. It's really useful to be able to share ideas, talk about common problems, to know that there are other people that have exactly the same pressures on them and all too often, the same feeling that their work is not appreciated.

The BCS in the South West organise a number of events throughout the year, although there tend to be more during the Winter and Spring terms. During the Summer months, most of the organisers are busy with educational exam systems as they tend to be in academia.

The latest event at the University of Plymouth was a talk on "Retro computing"; a look back at some of the hardware and software systems of the last half century. It was quite amazing to recall the changes that have occurred over that time, to see once again the boxes that seemed so modern and powerful at the time.

They had an amount of older equipment on display, items that have been picked up over the years and kept to be part of a "museum of computing". People had the opportunity to use a few of these old devices; it was quite interesting to be able to once again play a game of Lemmings on the old Amiga.

However, it wasn't just about games; they had some emulation software there that showed how some of the older systems used to run and what kind of business systems were running on them. As someone who had once had the opportunity to create a program from scratch, by designing the flow chart then creating the commands on a series of large punch cards to be processed on the main frame at County Hall, I had a strange sense of nostalgia.

For some of those there, most of the hardware was beyond their recall; several students were actually younger than some of the exhibits, which is quite a scary thought! It just makes me wonder if my nice new shiny HP laptop will seem as ancient and irrelevant in another 20 years.

The BCS South West are also starting a new web site to act as a repository for some information on older computing. The site is there but nothing is available just yet ( I'm told that they intend to slowly build this up with the help of a few volunteers in the months to come.

In all, it was a really interesting evening, with a lot to see and do. It was also amusing to see who were the highest scorers in "Crazy Taxi"! Clearly there were a lot of the people with grey in their hair that had spent just as much time playing games as some of the younger generation.

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