My gagdets


So where did the infatuation with technology begin for me?

Well some of you may know that I am the son of the science fiction author Brian Aldiss. As one does I often ponder what the impact of my fathers thinking has been on my existence. I don’t believe that I have inherited hi amazing ability to create whole worlds in his brain, to research and engineer entire ecosystems (Helliconia), and to plan vastly complex plotlines that all entwine.

What my father afforded me as a boy growing up was a proximity to the fantastic, and in some instances some tangible examples of the fantastic made real.

Early memories for me were of trips to my current home town of Brighton which used to regularly host World Science Fiction Conventions, usually at the Metropole, Grand and Brighton Centre. I travelled down with my family and on occasion even stayed in the guest of honour suites, but more importantly met some amazing people and witnessed some amazing things.

Unfortunately at my age it was more exciting for me to meet (the then able bodied) Christopher Reeve – Superman – than it was Arthur C. Clarke, Iain M Banks, Michael Moorcock, et al. But my fondest memories (other than seeing Hawkwind play at The Brighton Centre, or even throwing up when I first saw the Evil Dead in the Odeon Brighton) were of the fancy dress parade where the most wildly unusual, and sometimes provocative outfits had been crafted and were on display, oftentimes risquee!

So where is all this nostalgia leading (note to self: add nostalgia to the list of things this blog is likely to be about)… well I guess to Boars Hill. Woodlands, the house my parents owned on Boars Hill, was where I really started to realise who I was. Apart from my experiments with LSD I became aware of my fathers amazing worlds – notably the Helliconia trilogy which he spent 8 years created and penning – and also became aware of the technology he had around him.

I have inherited my fathers last typewriter. He invested in one of the first consumer targeted Olivetti word processors. I remember it’s tiny green LED display. It’s golf ball printer was such a success that he bought one for my mother , who at the time typed up all Dad’s manuscripts. (Couldn’t find it on Google!) . One other gadget I remember from around that time was the most stunning Sinclair Sovereign calculator. I guess this was after the Sinclair C5 had bombed, but this particular design was so ergonomic – I still remember how it felt to me to hold it as a boy. Using the iPhone now reminds me of how I felt discovering that as a lad.

My best friend at the time – Paul Rosenfeld – was the son of a local business man who opened as one of the first Appple Resellers in the UK. He had an office full of the first Macs. I used to go over and play games and muck about on them without ever getting particularly serious with them (maybe it was the LSD), but one summer Paul manage to lend me (or rather my father) the second ever made laptop – the Mac IIc.

It was gorgeous! For some reason we didn’t carry it around – it sat on my dad’s desk! But the fact that it had a digital version of pinball on it in monochrome green on black rocked my world. It appeared in the film 2010 as a futuristic extra – I’ll try and find a screenshot.

My first real computer was the Vic 20 (the first microcomputer to sell one million units. I know I wasn’t an Atari boy, but Commodore actually pipped Atari to the post with this classic box. Anyone else remember the size of the cable between the tape deck and the PC, or the ghastly noise of the software loading off the tape. Thank god for progress! I spent hours playing games with the rest of the family on that. Our resounding favourite was Blue Meanies From Outer Space , although other classic s were launched on this platform such as Apple Panic , Arcadia , City Bomber , Crazy Kong , Defender , Galaxians , Jetpac , Lunar Lander ,Wacky Waiters

We quickly realised the limitations of the Vic’s 5k of RAM and with my interest growing in the computer club at school (which I never actually joined) I persuaded my parents to get me a BBC Micro – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhQvg5HNANk&feature=related. With the ability to program your own software my sister Charlotte and I took delight in buying computer magazines and spending literally hours typing in endless lines of code for something that would animate a chevron around the screen (if it worked at all). I remember the fun of debugging when the inevitable line error would appear on the first few attempts. This kind of activity is probably what inspired War Games the movie!

Things moved on rapidly after this when Apple appeared on the seen, but it wasn’t really until advent of a game called Myst that the family were bought back together again in front of the PC!

There were a number of notable other gadgets such as the Donkey Kong Game & Watch which heralded the coming of the clam shell gadget! I still have it, and it still works!

I was still living with my parents when a two friends of mine chipped in together for a second hand arcade machine. They needed a home for it and so for a while it lived in my folks garage. Great fun. It was an original, with the trackball that you could spin across the screen and all in good working order. After the spell at the house it actually ended up in the sixth form common room at Abingdon School! I think my friend Rich made quite a bit of money from it!

The rest of my gadget history gets a little more predictable, and although an early adopter there’s a certain amount of public embarrassment around ownership of such cumbersome devices the XDA 1 and XDA IIs were revolutionary devices paving the way for the iPhone.

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  1. […] on February 23rd, 2010 by Tim (This post is part of a series – the first being ‘My Gadgets‘) Edit: and now part of the My All Time Top Ten […]

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