Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Year Honours ... and Steve Furber who designed computers that could run a 22nd century intergalactic cargo ship

I've noticed that the New Year Honours list always dominates the BBC News homepage on the last Saturday morning of the year. Not only does it lead the top story, but it's the same for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and most of the categories below (technology, business, etc).

As the day progresses, the sections with most news eventually drop the honours story from the coveted home page slot, and lead on something else. But Technology is usually quiet on a Saturday, so it's no surprise that one particular story is still up top tonight.

Steve Furber

Steve Furber - a key designer behind the BBC Micro and other Acorn computers - has been awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours list. According to a report, he got into computing when

... in the late 70s he became involved with the Cambridge University Processor Group, a club for computer hobbyists. "There was a gang of us who used to order integrated circuits and microprocessors from the very small number of shops that sold them," he said. "We got these bits and started building machines." During this time he was approached by Herman Hauser, co-founder of Acorn.

Pity it took 25 years or more to honour him. Those of us who honed our programming skills (that would be 6502/65C102 Assembler as well as BASIC!) on BBC Micros etc owe Steve Furber and his colleagues at Acorn a big thank you too.

An interesting aside from Mike Cowlishaw's Acorn web pages tells the story of an earlier microprocessor kit - the Acorn System 1 - that preceded the Atom and BBC Micro.

“... the System 1 was entirely designed over an Easter vacation ... Sophie produced the monitor program by hand (hand assembly of 6502 code), we blew it into a PROM and it worked straight-off. There may have been a minor bug or two, but basically it ran first time, previously untested.

Acorn System 1 - in the middle of Blake's 7 Slave computer

The System 1 had a starring role in the BBC’s Blakes 7, I seem to recall. It was used as the control panel on the cargo vessel they went around in, and I seem to recall Sophie noting that they even pushed the right key sequence to run a program.

This was the time when Sinclair was quoted as saying that a ZX81 could run a nuclear power station.

The Acorn riposte was that an Acorn System 1 could run a 22nd century intergalactic cargo ship!”

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