Christmas 1985 all over again

In the 80s calculating your biorhythms was what computers did

Sometime one Christmas in the mid 80s I remember stopping over at my grandma’s with my parents. Christmas morning arrived and I was lead downstairs to the dining room where a spare telly had been set up.

Under the telly was an Acorn Electron, its tape unit, some tapes and its manual. And it was all mine 🙂 It was my first, actual real computer and I spent many hours sat in front of it typing in BASIC listings and loading things off tape.

Occasionally I got to go to work with my dad who worked in a school’s supplies company. One of his tactics to entertain me was to sit me in front of some computer they had there. It was a weird computer made by the BBC and all I really paid any attention to was that it had a painting program and a light pen… and that it was somehow similar to my Acorn Electron but had more holes in the back of it which naturally made it better.

Since there was no such thing as the Internet back then (at least not for someone who was about six years old who had yet to learn what a ‘modem’ did) my sole source of information came from books borrowed out the library. The books were great, but they all had one major failing as far as I was concerned – they were all to do with this BBC computer and not my Electron. So I could read all about how to control a robot arm or a toy trainset, and even type the programs in and run them but since the bottom of my Electron didn’t contain a ‘User Port’ or a ‘Tube Port’ I couldn’t do anything.Political Correctness hadn't been invented back then either!

Back in the 80s it was quite fine and normal to allow your kids to mess around plugging stuff into their computers. I remember reading one book that gave me code and a simple diagram to control household lighting from the BBC. It didn’t contain six pages of disclaimers either, instead it merely warned me that mains electricity can kill and that getting an adult to check the wiring before turning it on was a good idea.

Fast forward to this Christmas and I discover some unusually heavy and oddly shaped presents under the tree. I now have a BBC Model B micro, a selection of floppies (that are older than the person who gave them to me) and a 40 track, single sided 100K floppy drive that sounds like reading disks takes serious effort. I already had the Amstrad monitor, and it conveniently plugs into the BBC’s monitor socket. Had I been given this setup when I was five or so I think I might have exploded 🙂

McDonalds’ Festive Pie

A McDonald's Festive Pie
A McDonald's Festive Pie

Christmas must be here, Mcdonalds are doing a “festive” version of their notoriously hot pie things. After picking Amy up from the station we stopped off at the local lard-burger and I got one of these.

They’re reasonably edible, being covered in sugar, full of sugar and probably deep fried (yes, they are) in sugar too. And oddly salty. The filling is an odd mix of something that tastes exactly like mincemeat if it were made by aliens, and some yellow gloop that might be custard, if by “custard” you mean “yellow gloop full of sugar”.

If you’ve not guessed, it’s full of sugar. Do not eat if you even vaguely suspect you’re diabetic… you will die. Also do not eat if intolerant to salt, or where high levels of saturated fat might kill you.

According to McDonalds own menu website, this tasty treat contains:

  • 340 Calories (17% GDA)
  • 20g fat (30% GDA) (4g Saturated fat – 18% GDA)
  • 0.5g salt (10% GDA)
  • 18g sugar (19% GDA)
  • 1g fibre (4% GDA)

It’s clever they can cram so much “stuff” into a bar of food that can be eaten in three mouthfulls, and leaves you with absolutely no feeling of satisfaction. It’s like a meal in a bar.

Braving the Christmas Sales

I went into HMV to see if there was anything cheap the other day, and after squeezing past a few people I lost the will to live and walked out again. There could have been bargains, but I wasn’t in the mood to shuffle around trying to get to them.

Seriously people, when you’re in a shop, keep your spatial awareness turned on! Don’t stand there like a shop dummy, blocking the aisles. Are you queueing for the tills? Stand in a neat line, we’re British, it’s what we do. Women with pushchairs or small children, please tie them up outside so they can’t get in the way or make a mess. And yes, the shop is full of attention-grabbing things and I know it’s hard to stay focused, but please please look where you’re going and stop kneecapping me with your shopping bags and the heads of your bored children.

We did get an Xbox 360 Elite from Cash Converters for £119 though.

Deck the halls

tree-lightsIt’s Christmas again, the time of year when we get to put up bright sparkly things, consume large amounts of food and do not a lot. And every year there’s the same routine of putting up the decorations.

First they need to be found, probably in the darkest, dustiest corner of the house. Once found and the spiders evicted it’s time for the untangling of the lights. This ritual can take hours, with the less patient people uttering the phrase “ahhbuggrit let’s buy some new ones”. During December the binmen must throw away miles of tangled Christmas lights that have only ever been used once.

Then there’s the problem of knowing where to put the tree. Does it go by the TV? On the windowsill? No, it can’t go there because there’s no socket for the lights, and if it goes near the TV will it suddenly set on fire? Let’s just stuff it on the table in the corner. With the tree up, weighed down with more tinsel and baubles than the tree in Harrods and the lights working it’s almost time to take it back down again.

And that’s a whole different story.

Internet Vs Snail Mail

I’m writing Christmas Cards to people on IRC who live in foreign countries. It amuses me that I can type text to them in real time for free, but the cards I write have to actually travel all those thousands of miles to get to the other person, and that it’ll take real time – days – for this to happen.

I could take the piss by scanning the envelope and its contents, then email it to people 🙂

What I got for Christmas

Inspired by a post I read here… (coincidentally that site has the same theme as mine, but I hand created this from the original HTML templates)

Compared to last year, this Christmas has been much more relaxed and hassle free. For a start I wasn’t kept awake all Christmas eve with neighbours playing loud dance music. I went to my parents this year, taking along a variety of presents for them.

My Grandma got a cordless phone for her house, my sister a Boot’s voucher, my dad a DVD and me and my sister bought my mum a new jacket.

I got £80 worth of Ikea gift vouchers (only now they’re those daft giftcards instead) and various random items such as a shaving set, pyjamas and more chocolate and biscuits than I could ever consume. Not that it didn’t stop me from trying of course! In fact eating was quite a big part of Christmas this year, I don’t think I stopped for two days. On Christmas Eve we went out for a meal with my Grandma as it’s her birthday, then on Christmas Day we had a goose. In between these two meals was a constant stream of nuts, crisps and chocolates. Never since the time I had an all-expenses paid trip with work have I stuffed myself so much.


Here is my tree, it has a colour scheme of red! The star on the top is home made and consists of four 1.5volt batteries on a double circuit. Each circuit has two leds and three resistors. The whole thing is made out of fence wire and heat-shrink tubing. The main tree lights are LEDs also, but since there’s no way to remove the top bulb (without cutting it off) I couldn’t power the star from the same transformer.