Many Years Ago

I attach a brief text about my own early years whilst computers became available and then essential.  I have maintained  civil, mechanical, water and environmental interests and been glad to support IAP which linked such interests whilst abroad for so many years.  I joined when Bob Charles was Secretary and I was in Sri Lanka for ten years.  I lived in Colombo and Arthur C Clarke lived nearby, he had six computers and a telescope on the roof, we used to have great discussions about fractals.  He was a Director of Underwater Safaris and I did a lot of diving.. happy days.

John Davis Fellow

I became a graduate engineer Under Agreement in 1961 in offices in Park Lane. it was effectively an apprenticeship and older colleagues said I was lucky that my parents did not have to pay a Premium for my training, and that I had been hired at a salary (£750 p.a.). The essential tool was the slide rule. There were mechanical calculator machines that pinged in reverse to divide. It was another world.. I remember a colleague who had completed his Agreement and bought a bowler hat.

Years passed and it was not until 1977 that I wrote my first program in FORTRAN. One handed punched cards to a technician to run and got back either “failure” or the magical Output.

My career took me abroad and during a flight stopover in 1979 I bought an HP41 programmable calculator. I wrote programs on magnetic card that enabled engineers to rapidly check their reinforced concrete design for compliance with codes of practice. I was able to increase the power of the machine using EPROMs and update these after erasing them with ultra-violet light in the aptly named DHOBI box and was soon using them for various admin tasks.

I was in California in 1982 and for 1200 dollars bought an Osborne 1 “portable” computer (weight 32 lbs). This had twin floppy disk drives and a 5 inch diagonal monitor. It was bundled with disks for CP/M, WordStar, SuperCalc, CBASIC and MBASIC. I was also able to get FORTH and CardBox. However the real prize was the superb “User’s Reference Guide” which is the best I ever saw and was in my view on it’s own worth the total price.

When next visiting the UK I was asked by one of the firm’s accountants how I had compiled accounts and various admin information, and explained that travelling with a computer was like taking an office along. Soon computers became essential as soon as they appeared. I may have been one of the first to use a dive computer. My current computer has SSD but I recently got out the Osborne 1 and floppy disks and found, in almost childish wonder, that after 40 years it is still able to run.